MSc Natural Product Drug Discovery

Full Time
Degree of Master of Science

Natural products possess enormous structural and chemical diversity that cannot be matched by synthetic molecules. They are an incredibly important source of biologically active compounds for both human healthcare and agriculture, and recent technological advances mean that their application can now be fully explored.

This Master’s course will equip you with theoretical and practical knowledge in the science of natural product discovery, from microorganisms to plants and animals. Your studies will include nutriceuticals and herbal extracts, antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance and the major human diseases.

We place an emphasis on translational research and the drug discovery process, taking natural products from bench to bedside. And you’ll gain a thorough cross-disciplinary grounding with a unique mix of organic chemistry, pharmacology, phytochemistry and microbiology: ideal preparation for a research-based career, taking theoretical knowledge through to practical application.


Studying with academic and industrial experts who are currently active in natural product research and drug discovery, on our one-year Master’s programme you will gain the key skills, and discover the latest cutting-edge methods, in natural product discovery.

Your learning will combine lectures, seminars and laboratory practicals, as well as an independent research project and self-guided study. Our expert team is based across the Norwich Research Park, including the School of Pharmacy and the John Innes Centre. What’s more, guest speakers from the pharmaceutical and biotech sector will present sessions covering topics such as the industrial applications of natural product research.

In your first semester, you’ll gain a solid theoretical foundation in all aspects of the subject, including natural product drug discovery, human physiology and the targeting of human diseases, and natural product chemistry and genetics.

In your second semester, you’ll put the theory into practice, designing, executing and interpreting your own experiments using the very latest methods and technologies. All of which will culminate in your hands-on, laboratory-based Master’s research project, which you will deliver with the expert guidance of a member of staff.

Course Structure

Our one-year course is broken down into two semesters: taught modules in semester one and independent research in semester two. The three taught modules will provide you with core knowledge and practical skills in natural product research and drug discovery.

Introduction to natural products and drug discovery

This overview of the drug discovery process will include the following topics:

  • Nutriceuticals and herbal extracts
  • Antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance
  • Classes of natural products and their biosynthesis
  • Sources of natural products – terrestrial and marine
  • Microbial fermentation techniques
  • Methods for the isolation, purification and characterisation of natural products.

Targets for drug discovery

In this module you’ll study human physiology and look at drug discovery targets for major human diseases. You’ll also cover target validation, in both vitro high-throughput screening and animal models.

  • Natural product chemistry and genetics
  • Natural product semi-synthesis and synthesis
  • Synthesis of analogues of natural products
  • Recombinant DNA techniques
  • Applications to engineered biosynthesis

In your second semester you’ll undertake an independent research project on the topic of your choosing, supervised by a staff member. Examples of previous topics include natural product medicinal chemistry, discovery of novel natural products, pharmacological screening of natural products and biosynthetic pathway manipulation.

Teaching and Learning


Our taught modules consist of a set of core lectures by our academic and industrial experts, all of whom are actively working in natural product research and drug discovery. Due to Covid-19 there will be a mixture of asynchronous and synchronous online teaching activities in the 2020-21 academic year. Their teaching will be reinforced by active learning in seminars, small group workshops and team assignments. And you'll develop practical skills in natural product research through guided laboratory sessions in phytochemistry, nutriceuticals, microbial fermentation, natural product isolation and high-throughput screening for biological activity. These experiments will take place in our new state-of-the-art teaching laboratories and instrument facilities. The sessions will be supervised by your lecturers and postgraduate student demonstrators, who’ll ensure the safe execution of the experiments based on current government guidance regarding social distancing. 

Independent study

You will be expected to build up your knowledge of the subject through independent study. Our taught modules will be supplemented by reading material in the form of textbooks, review articles and research publications.

In semester two, you’ll complete a hands-on, laboratory-based Master’s research project. Each student will work on an independent topic under the guidance of a staff member, through which you will gain experience in the design, execution and interpretation of experiments using the latest methods and technologies. 


The course is designed to prepare you for a research-based career, placing an emphasis on theoretical knowledge and its practical application. Therefore, your independent research project accounts for 50% of your assessment, and the remainder comes from laboratory practicals, essays and oral presentations. There will be no written examinations.

After the course

On this course you will gain key research skills and exposure to the latest cutting-edge methods in natural product discovery. This includes how to biologically profile natural products, and how to investigate them as therapeutic agents.

The interdisciplinary nature of the course will prepare you for more advanced studies in the area of your choice.

Career destinations

Examples of careers that you could enter include;

  • R&D positions in industry
  • PhD in science
  • Scientific writing
  • Research management

Course related costs

Please see Additional Course Fees for details of course-related costs.

Course Modules 2020/1

Students must study the following modules for 180 credits:

Name Code Credits

Introduction to Natural Products and Drug Discovery

Overview of the drug discovery process. Nutriceuticals and herbal extracts. Antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance. Classes of natural products and their biosynthesis. Sources of natural products - terrestrial and marine. Microbial fermentation techniques.



Research Project

In this module you will undertake an independent research project supervised by a NRP staff member. Projects will focus on the chemistry, pharmacology or molecular biology of natural products.



Targets for Drug Discovery

This module is an introduction to human physiology. It covers drug discovery targets for major human diseases, target validation, in vitro high-throughput screening and animal models.




Whilst the University will make every effort to offer the modules listed, changes may sometimes be made arising from the annual monitoring, review and update of modules and regular (five-yearly) review of course programmes. Where this activity leads to significant (but not minor) changes to programmes and their constituent modules, there will normally be prior consultation of students and others. It is also possible that the University may not be able to offer a module for reasons outside of its control, such as the illness of a member of staff or sabbatical leave. In some cases optional modules can have limited places available and so you may be asked to make additional module choices in the event you do not gain a place on your first choice. Where this is the case, the University will endeavour to inform students.

Entry Requirements

  • Degree Subject Chemistry, Pharmaceutical Sciences or a related subject
  • Degree Classification Bachelors (Honours) degree 2:1 or equivalent

Students for whom English is a Foreign language

We welcome applications from students whose first language is not English. To ensure such students benefit from postgraduate study, we require evidence of proficiency in English. Our usual entry requirements are as follows:

  • IELTS: 6.5 (minimum 5.5 in all components)
  • PTE (Pearson): 58 (minimum 42 in all components)

Test dates should be within two years of the course start date.

Other tests, including Cambridge English exams and the Trinity Integrated Skills in English are also accepted by the university. The full list of accepted tests can be found here: Accepted English Language Tests

INTO UEA also run pre-sessional courses which can be taken prior to the start of your course. For further information and to see if you qualify please contact


Applicants for this course will be invited to interview either in person or by Skype.

Fees and Funding

Tuition fees for the academic year 2020/21 are:

  • UK/EU Students: £9,400
  • International Students: £19,800

If you choose to study part-time, the fee per annum will be half the annual fee for that year, or a pro-rata fee for the module credit you are taking (only available for UK/EU students).

We estimate living expenses at £1,015 per month.


A variety of Scholarships may be offered to UK/EU and International students. Scholarships are normally awarded to students on the basis of academic merit and are usually for the duration of the period of study. Please click here for more detailed information about funding for prospective students.

How to Apply

Applications for Postgraduate Taught programmes at the University of East Anglia should be made directly to the University.

To apply please use our online application form.

Further Information

If you would like to discuss your individual circumstances prior to applying please do contact us:

Postgraduate Admissions Office
Tel: +44 (0)1603 591515

International candidates are also encouraged to access the International Students section of our website.

    Next Steps

    We can’t wait to hear from you. Just pop any questions about this course into the form below and our enquiries team will answer as soon as they can.

    Admissions enquiries: or
    telephone +44 (0)1603 591515