Quick Discovery

Our History

The DDU was first conceived in 2002 when Professor Michael Ferguson (Professor of Molecular Parasitology) and Professor Alan Fairlamb (Professor of Biochemistry) were frustrated that the drug targets being identified for neglected tropical diseases could not be translated into therapeutics. Neglected tropical diseases affect the poorest people in the world and, at the time, simply didn't receive the same attention within the pharmaceutical industry as more 'profitable' diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases. In addition, major killers such as malaria present other problems – treatments must be inexpensive and the parasites that spread the disease can develop resistance to many new drugs. The pharmaceutical industry had all the resources required but no appetite for tackling these devastating diseases. Professors Ferguson and Fairlamb realised that they would need industry expertise in house to design new medicinal compounds themselves, rather than waiting for Pharma to pick up their leads.

If we couldn't go to Pharma, then we would bring Pharma to us.

Professor Michael Ferguson

The DDU’s initial infrastructure funding came from a variety of sources including the University of Dundee, Scottish Funding Council, Wellcome Trust, European Regional Development Fund, Wolfson Trust, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Universities Life Science Alliance and the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund.

In 2006, the newly established DDU was awarded £8.1M from the Wellcome Trust over 5 years to discover high-quality drug candidates for tropical diseases, principally for human African trypanosomiasis (HAT). The Unit now develops new and more effective treatments for some of the world’s most neglected diseases including Chagas’ disease, visceral leishmaniasis, malaria, cryptosporidiosis tuberculosis and schistosomiasis

We began our Innovative Targets Portfolio in 2009 and continue to use the strength of our industry-experienced Leadership Team and staff to identify novel targets and mechanisms for diseases, and ultimately, aim to develop new and innovative treatments for a broad range of diseases.

To this day, the DDU is still one of a kind in the UK – a drug discovery research lab in the heart of a university campus that brings together assay development, high-throughput small-molecule screening, cell biology, medicinal chemistry, structural biology, computational chemistry and DMPK, in one integrated facility.

Timeline of DDU


DDU starts 5-year, £1.8M collaboration with the DNDi, to develop affordable, effective treatments for visceral leishmaniasis.

MMV announces partnership with the DDU to identify new leads for malaria.

MMV partnership to identify new leads for malaria

MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme award to DDU funds development of the Innovative Targets Portfolio.


DDU in collaboration with GSK awarded £8.6M grant by the Wellcome Trust to develop new treatments for diseases such as leishmaniasis, African sleeping sickness and Chagas’ disease.

Repurposing of oral fexinidazole to deliver PoC for the drug in visceral leishmaniasis.

DDU partners two projects from the Innovative Targets Portfolio with GSK through their Discovery Partnerships in Academia programme.

TPP Global Development Ltd announces collaboration with the DDU to establish a drug development fund.


DNDi instigate Phase II proof-of-concept clinical trial with fexinidazole for the treatment of adults with visceral leishmaniasis in East Africa

Partnership established with GALVmed to develop candidates for treatment of animal African trypanosomiasis.

GALVmed partnership to develop candidates for treatment of animal African trypanosomiasis

Wellcome Trust ISSF, MRC Confidence in Concept and Wellcome Trust – DGEM awards expand innovative targets activity.

Immuno-oncology assets licensed to IOmet Pharma.


Centre of Excellence for TB drug discovery established with £6.2M award from the Wellcome Trust and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

MMV accepts DDD’498 anti-malarial candidate for pre-clinical/clinical development

Partnership initiated with Structure-guided Drug Discovery Coalition (SDDC)

Start of successful MRC Confidence in Concept awards 2013 - 2020 to further support continued success in the Innovative Targets Portfolio.


Research Collaboration and License agreement with Pfizer through their Rare Disease Consortium


The DDU malaria team win MMV Project of the year for DDD’498

DDU expands into new Discovery Centre


MMV take DDD’498 into pre-clinical/clinical development (now called M5717) in partnership with Merck Serono

License NMT inhibitors repurposed for oncology (DDD’481 and DDD’646) to Pacylex Inc for pre/clinical development


2 pre-clinical candidates for visceral leishmaniasis declared in partnership with GSK (GSK3186899/DDD853651 & GSK3494245/DDD1305143)

£2M extension from the Wellcome Trust to continue the kinetoplastids collaboration with GSK.

Collaboration with HepaRegeniX GmBH to develop novel therapies for liver disease.


Established £13.6M Wellcome Centre for Anti-Infectives Research (WCAIR).

Collaboration with GSK is extended with £7.9M award from Wellcome to continue working on kinetoplastids.

VL candidate

BMGF award for Developing Leads to Shorten Duration of TB Chemotherapy: SHORTEN-TB.

First in human study initiated for M5717 malaria candidate.

HepaRegenix exercise their option to license DDU assets.


Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation continue support for TB with award for Lead Optimisation Research

The DDU malaria team win MMV project of the year for a second time for their work on developing further potential anti-malaria medicines against the target lysyl-tRNA synthetase.

MRC continues to support Innovative Targets Portfolio with awards for portfolio pipeline and industry engagement


Major investment from Takeda for Alzheimer’s disease project in collaboration with University of Cambridge and LMB

Agreement signed with Bukwang Pharma to support Parkinson’s disease collaboration with Oxford University

Neuroinflammation project licensed to Corbin Therapeutics

Dermatology assets spinout to form In4Derm


MRC supports Development of New Agents for the Treatment of Cryptosporidiosis

First visceral leishmaniasis candidate GSK’899/DDD’651 enters Phase I trials with GSK

Single dose PoC achieved for M5717 malaria candidate in Human challenge studies


$5M Gates award for COVID-19 Lead Optimisation of New Broad Spectrum Drug Candidate


Further boost for TB portfolio with Lead4TB award from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Second visceral leishmaniasis candidate (GSK’245/DDD’143) enters Phase I trials with GSK


£18M secured across multiple awards from Wellcome and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue Anti-infectives Drug Discovery in TB, Chagas disease and schistosomiasis

DDU takes over leadership of SDDC and secures partnership with GHIT and Eisai to boost malaria portfolio

Pacylex initiate Phase I clinical trials for PCLX-001(DDD’481) in Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphomas and solid tumour patients

Research collaboration and License Agreement with Beactica for oncology programme


Renewed funding for TB, Kinetoplastid and Apicomplexan portfolios