Sussex Drug Discovery Centre (SDDC)

About us

Our goal is the discovery of novel therapeutics for diseases with high unmet medical need. As a Centre of Excellence for academic driven drug discovery we build on the internationally recognised research in Life Sciences at Sussex. Our collaborative environment nurtures knowledge exchange for academic and industrial partnerships and spin-out opportunities. We are a training hub for future leaders in industry and academia whilst developing the next generation of drug discovery scientists.

What we do

We are a fully integrated group of drug discovery scientists equipped with industry standard equipment and capabilities, based at the University of Sussex. 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 several 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 Murrell-Lagnado
Associate Professor of Molecular Pharmacology

John Spencer

John Spencer
Director of SDDC & Professor of Bioorganic Chemistry

Research Staff

Jay Asthana 
Medicinal Chemist 

Andrew McGown 
Medicinal Chemist

Dawn Field

Dr Sarah Connery 
Research Fellow in Assay Development  


Mohan Rajasekaran
Protein Production and Structural Biology

Hedaythul Choudhury

Sarah Lilley

Sergi Ortoll
Sergi Ortoll 
Medicinal Chemist

Roy Fox

C Adcock 

Claire Adcock 

Medicinal Chemist 



Jessica Booth 

Assay Development & Screening 


Kay Osborn
Research Fellow in Cell Biology 

PhD Students 

Sirihathai Srikwanjai 



Sirihathai (Joy) started her Ph.D. in September 2019 and she is working on synthesizing potential compounds for medicinal applications.   She holds a BSc (2nd honor) and MSc in Chemistry from Khon Kaen University, Thailand.




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.