Sussex Drug Discovery Centre (SDDC)

About us

The Sussex Drug Discovery Centre (SDDC) is a fully integrated group of drug discovery scientists, equipped with industry-standard equipment and capabilities, based at the University of Sussex. Our goal is the discovery of novel therapeutics for diseases with high unmet medical need.

What we do

The core aim of the centre is to deliver mature drug discovery assets for subsequent partnering and onward development. Central to this is the generation of a highly differentiated and commercially attractive portfolio – the group has adopted two strategies to deliver this:

  • New approaches to old targets – many attractive and validated targets are yet to be targeted by marketed medicines; the group has programs aimed at delivering best in class molecules with the potential to reach market
  • New approaches to new targets – collaborations with basic and clinical research scientists in Sussex and outside is delivering novel and structurally-enabled targets to start discovery activities.
  • New uses of old drugs - mechanistic, structure activity relationships and phenotypic studies, e.g. metal dyshomeostasis and chelation studies. aim to repurpose drugs for new uses, notably in rare diseases.

We also play a strong role in the delivery of new chemical probes to assist target validation and library generation through late stage functionalisation and atom economical routes.

In addition to delivering and enabling novel therapeutics, the group aims to play a key role in training the next generation of potential drug discoverers, our extensive experience and expertise within the SDDC is being used to achieve this important goal.

Who we are

Ruth

Ruth Murrell-Lagnado
Associate Professor of Molecular Pharmacology

John Spencer

John Spencer
Director of SDDC & Professor of Bioorganic Chemistry

Research Staff

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Gareth Williams
Biologist

AM
Andrew McGown 
Medicinal Chemist


Dawn Field
Biologist


Kamlesh Bala
Medicinal Chemist

MR

Mohan Rajasekaran
Protein Production and Structural Biology


Hedaythul Choudhury
Electrophysiologist


Sarah Lilley
Electrophysiologist


Oana Popa
Electrophysiologist


Roy Fox
Biologist

C Adcock 

Claire Adcock 

Medicinal Chemist 

 

 Portrait

Jessica Booth 

Assay Development & Screening 

Portrait
Kay Osborn
Research Fellow in Cell Biology 

 

 

 

History

The group, originally named the Translational Drug Discovery Group, was established in 2011 as part of a strategic initiative by the School of Life Sciences – this was precipitated by:

  • the pharmaceutical industry in the UK experiencing a dramatic and significant decline in recent years, changing the landscape for UK drug discovery
  • the strategic withdrawal of many large pharma organisations from selected therapeutic areas of high unmet medical need eg. neuroscience
  • a slowly increasing availability of funds targeted to academic translational drug discovery eg. Wellcome SDDI, MRC DFPS, venture capital.

In 2021, Professor John Spencer took the helm of SDDC. A Sussex graduate, he brings 10 years of experience in small biotech organisations (e.g Xenova/Trigen, Cerebrus, James Black Foundation) and an established research profile in chemical biology, fragment based drug discovery (bromodomains, kinases), p53 stabilisation and hybrid agents including protacs, underpinned by a strong foundation in structural biology and organic synthesis (notably palladium chemistry). He has received several million pounds in grants from research councils, companies (CASE awards, GSK, AZ, Tocris Biotechne), EU venture capital and charities. 

The group was founded by Professor Simon Ward (GSK) and Professor John Atack (Merk,Janssen) to create a small, nimble organisation to translate the understanding of fundamental disease biology and validated molecular targets, delineated by Sussex and other academic scientists, into novel drugs. The group established parallel integrated laboratories focused on medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology.

By 2014 the group had secured more than £9 million in funding from diverse sources including the Wellcome Trust, MRC, Cancer UK and industrial partners. This funding was centred on programs in neuroscience (schizophrenia, cognition, neurodegeneration) and the translation of basic science discoveries from the University’s Genome Damage and Stability Centre (oncology).

In 2014 Professor Martin Gosling (Novartis) joined SDDC and the group expanded its therapeutic focus to include respiratory disease.

As part of the University’s continued development of its drug discovery activities the success and future potential of the group was recognised with the award of Centre status and the group renamed the Sussex Drug Discovery Centre (SDDC) in 2015. 

Professor Jeffrey Hill (GlaxoSmithKline) was the Director of SDDC from 2019 until 2021.