Drug Discovery Mission Course: Brazil 2023

Drug Discovery Mission is a course designed to take bench scientists through real life drug discovery challenges to deliver a pre-clinical candidate for a neglected tropical disease.

The WCAIR teaching team consisted of: Dr Catharine Goddard, Dr Cedric Graebin, Dr Erika Pinto, Professor Kevin Read and Dr Lauren Webster.

WCAIR training recently travelled to the University of São Paulo (USP) in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil to deliver their latest short course, Drug Discovery Mission (DDM).  Hosted by Dr Flavio Emery at the School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, USP provided a beautiful setting to host the DDM and the change in weather from the UK was most welcoming.  It was hot!

Pre-course sessions involved the participants introducing themselves to their peers and the training team.  However, there was a slight twist to the introductions.  Each participant was provided the lanyard of another participant and asked to find out 3 facts about the owner.  Each participant was then “awarded” their lanyard in the introduction ceremony, with the presenter being the holder of the lanyard.  As we were all now friends, it only seemed appropriate to swap more stories over some Brazilian cerveja.

The first morning came around quickly with all participants eager to begin their drug discovery journey.  The participants were split into 2 drug discovery teams, Cal4Leish and YorMiLe, and set their goal of delivering a pre-clinical candidate for Visceral Leishmaniasis…in 5 days.  Totally achievable right?


How would you describe drug discovery? Mentimeter captured the participants thoughts on this interdisciplinary field.


Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  To become a better drug discovery scientist, it is important to be aware of what all disciplines are contributing to the overall project goal.  Despite most participants coming from a chemistry background, it was time to turn them into screening biologists and ask them to analyse real screening data.  Workbooks were provided in both English and Portuguese to assist with navigating task software and content.  Funny though, the Portuguese versions were never opened…

“But just one more round?”  After lots of discussion surrounding which compounds to progress into hit-to-lead, the chemists finally got to be chemists again.  Teams were asked to begin designing analogues where they were asked to optimise their hit to a compound that would give them favourable properties to dose in a pharmacokinetic study, and later proof of concept.  The teams were allowed to submit 5x compounds at a time, with some teams trying to add a sneaky one or two in there.  The teams were so enthusiastic about the given task that the WCAIR team had to remind them about lunch!


A DDM participant, Thiago dos Santos, won the DDM meme competition with his entry on medical chemistry sadness.


“I’ve been Kev’d.”  Mid-week was dedicated to DMPK where the participants learned what information is produced when a compound is dosed in a pharmacokinetic study.  The meme below, created by one of the participants, summarised their feelings about this subject.  Drug discovery is a difficult game to play, met with unfavourable results, high expenditure, and a caffeine addition you were not aware of.  There were so many cups of Brazilian coffee drank.  I say “Brazilian” as that stuff looked like it could fuel a rocket to the moon!  Sugar syrup in coffee!

It’s over.  The final day was not about compound design or analysing screening data.  The day was dedicated to sales.  Now for a course teaching about delivering a pre-clinical candidate, why would one of the last tasks be dedicated to this?  Small academic groups/biotechs, rely on partnering projects with pharmaceutical companies to take their project forward to clinical studies.  Cal4Leish and YoRMiLe were now going to experience what it was like to sell a project.  With fantastic presentations, questions from all angles and an anxious wait, both teams had convinced their pharma buyers they had interesting candidates, albeit still requiring additional toxicological data.

DDM involved long days, lots of learning, interactivity, laughs, memes, pizza, coffee, and lots of fun!  WCAIR can’t wait to hear what lies ahead for Cal4Leish and YoRMiLe.  I mean, they have already set the bar high with teams of 5 people delivering late-lead candidate in 5 days…


DDM Class of 2023 . Participants showing “L” for Leishmaniasis.


If you and/or your institute are interested in hosting the DDM, please get in touch with the Scientific and Pedagogy Lead, Dr Lauren Webster (l.a.webster@dundee.ac.uk