Explore this course:

    Register your interest to hear about postgraduate study and events at the University of Sheffield

    2023 start September 

    Genomic Approaches to Drug Discovery

    School of Biosciences, Faculty of Science

    Train in the latest automated genomics techniques and develop your professional skills in drug screening, gene discovery and the use of pharmacogenomics.
    Postgraduate in Biomedical lab

    Course description

    This unique research-led masters course is for students who are fascinated by genomic technologies. You'll be provided with practical laboratory training in drug screening and gene discovery, using the latest automated genomics techniques.

    We’re home to the internationally renowned Sheffield RNAi Screening Facility (SRSF), which is kitted out with the same pioneering equipment that’s used by pharmaceutical companies around the world. During your studies, you’ll have the opportunity to work within the purpose-built SRSF and train to use technologies for drug screening, laboratory automation, cellular assays, imaging and processing.

    You’ll learn how to use high-throughput machinery that you’ll find in industrial research facilities and develop skills in techniques including genome editing, 3D cell culture, robotics, and functional genomic screening. You’ll also discover how academic labs, as well as those in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries use these same cutting-edge techniques to identify candidates for potential therapies. We’ll then show you how to program a Hamilton Star liquid handling robot, used in many automation laboratories, as well as how to use and write algorithms for High Content Microscopy.

    Practical training will be supported by theoretical sessions, teaching you about the latest techniques including T-cell therapies, antibodies, gene therapy, cell therapy, CRISPR, RNAi and clinical trials, so that you develop an appreciation of every step that’s involved in the academic and commercial drug discovery process.

    The most substantial part of the course is the research project. You’ll spend three months working within the SRSF, honing your professional skills in the use of pharmacogenomics. You’ll choose your research area from a range of projects to match your future career aspirations. This could cover cancer drug screening, target identification, gene delivery or peptide therapy projects. You could even choose to do a project away from the SRSF in another lab within the School of Biosciences.

    Example research projects include:

    • An in vivo chemical screen for antagonists of an adhesion
    • GPCR signalling pathway in zebrafish
    • New strategies for cancer drug development: protein-protein interaction inhibitors to inhibit the critical cancer target Fen1
    • Understanding hypothalamic development: a scRNA seq approach

    This course will give you the practical experience you need for an exciting career in the field of drug discovery. Alongside your training, you’ll also get direct exposure to industry leaders from a wide range of companies. You'll build your professional network and gain a deeper understanding of how pioneering techniques and equipment are used in practice.


    We accept medical students who wish to intercalate their studies. Find out more on the Medical School website.


    A selection of modules are available each year - some examples are below. There may be changes before you start your course. From May of the year of entry, formal programme regulations will be available in our Programme Regulations Finder.

    Core modules:

    Literature Review and Research Proposal

    This unit involves an in-depth survey of the current literature relevant to the student's research project. Students will carry out an exhaustive search of the literature relevant to their project using the resources of the University, including appropriate databases and specialist search engines, as well as paper-based resources in the University Library. Based on primary research articles, review articles and textbooks, students will work independently under the supervision of the project supervisor to produce a document reporting on the background literature underpinning their research project. The literature review should demonstrate an ability to comprehend and synthesise the experimental evidence presented in the literature, to critically appraise previous studies and identify gaps in the knowledge, and to describe the experimental design of the research project.  To prepare their literature review,  students will meet at regular intervals with their supervisors to discuss their progress.

    15 credits
    3D Tissue Culture and Genome Editing

    Many of the major pharmaceutical companies are using 3D models of disease and most use genome editing. This practical module will instruct students how to grow cells including 3D tumour spheroids in culture using different growth conditions. Students will learn how to transfect plasmid constructs to induce gene expression changes and use plasmids as molecular reporters of pathway activity. They will experience how to treat cells with RNAi and small molecules and measure the effect of gene expression. Students will grow 3D tissues and 3D tumours in this practical module and perform targeted gene studies. The students will use FACS for cell type selection and use CRISPR genome editing and knock-out techniques to build models of disease. At the end of this module students will have an extensive knowledge of 3D cell culture and the genome editing tools used in drug discovery and how to use them in screening campaigns.

    15 credits
    Ethics and Public Awareness of Science

    Those working within public health need to be familiar with secondary data sources that support research, management and practice. This module will consider the main types of secondary data - relating to demography, epidemiology, clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Strengths, uses, interpretation and limitations of secondary data sources will be examined, assessing these with regard to completeness, accuracy, relevance and timeliness. Students will explore these issues in connection with a case study for a specific country. Scenario planning, confidentiality and the use of computers are other key topics that are illustrated and explored within the module.The module will begin with an introduction to the areas in which legislation impinges on biomedical research. We will then proceed to analyse the processes by which such legislation is made including, especially, the ethical bases for such legislation. To do this we will introduce the students to the philosophical bases of ethical thought and get them to analyse existing laws to discover the ethics that underlies these laws. The students will then be asked to discuss the ethics of specific topics in the form of a formal debate. In addition, we examine how society perceives science and how the process of science itself works and how this influences scientists' abilities to present their work to the wider community. 

    15 credits
    Small Molecule and Functional Genomic Screening

    This practical module will teach students how to perform small molecule and functional genetic screens, focused on human disease. Emphasis will be placed on how to select the right off-the-shelf assay and if one is not available how to build a new assay specific for their study. Students will take part in experimental screens of small molecules and genetic knock-down screens. Examples of screening methods that will be covered include traditional small molecule screens, modern functional genomics and high throughput phenotypic screens. The emphasis will be to appreciate every step that is involved in this process, from laboratory automation to analysis. The students will learn robotics, in particular programming the Hamilton Star liquid handling robot.

    15 credits
    Advanced Scientific Skills

    This module builds on existing, and further develops, generic scientific skills to equip postgraduate taught students with strong competences in presenting and reporting their research work using written and oral formats, in analysing data and the scientific literature, and in acquiring and extending their critical analysis skills. Teaching will be delivered using a blended approach with a combination of lectures, workshops, tutorials and seminars together with independent study and on-line teaching.

    Taught throughout the academic year, the module will be articulated around three units addressing: 

    Unit 1) Scientific presentation skills. In this unit, students will explore how to develop their academic (writing and oral) presentation skills. Some of the topics taught may include how to formulate a research question and hypothesis, how to find information, and how to structure a scientific essay or report. Students will learn how to communicate effectively their research to a scientific, as well as lay, audience. Emphasis will be placed on short oral communications and poster preparation and presentation.  The learning objectives will be acquired through lectures, workshops, tutorials and independent study.

    Unit 2) Critical analysis skills. This unit prepares students to develop their ability to analyse and appraise the scientific value of the published and unpublished literature. Workshops and lectures will introduce students to the process of critical appraisal of scientific work. 

    Unit 3) Statistics and data analysis skills. In this unit, students will learn methods to gather and analyse large datasets. In particular, workshops and lectures will teach students the basics of R coding and statistics for application in biosciences. The unit may also deliver other forms of data analysis relevant to the programme of study. Teaching within this unit will be delivered mainly through on-line material, lectures and workshops. Independent study will be essential to complete the acquisition of skills.

    15 credits
    Critical Analysis of Current Science

    This module is designed to develop the student's ability to read and understand the scientific literature relating to their own research area and also enable them to integrate their own work into the wider scientific field. The module consists of the following components; a seminar and seminar analysis programme designed to develop student skills in listening, understanding and appraising scientific research presented by external invited speakers; contribution, preparation and presentation of journal clubs reporting on the literature published in the field of biomedical science. In the latter component, students will be expected to demonstrate critical analysis skills, which will be encouraged through questions and discussions in classes. Each component is assessed through formal examination and oral presentation.

    15 credits
    Research Project

    The module aims to provide students with experience of conducting a research project, and develop analytical and organisational skills required for a career in science. Students undertake a research project which reflects the research activities in the Department/Faculty/University. Projects will be supervised by a member of the academic staff, although students may have additional contact with various staff contributing to their training. Students will gain experience of experimental design, and in execution, collation, interpretation and presentation of scientific data.
    Assessment of the project will be based on a written dissertation, an evaluation of the research skills developed during the tenure of the project, including keeping a lab book, and delivery of an individual poster presentation.

    60 credits

    Optional modules - two from:

    The Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industry

    This lecture module will be taught by professionals from a wide range of companies in the drug industry and from the business services team here at the University of Sheffield. The course will teach students the major steps in the drug discovery process including; screening, development, testing, small molecule manufacture, venture capital funding, patent law, the growing field of contract research and the roles each company has within this industry. Students will learn directly from specialists within these fields. From the Sheffield business team, the students will learn how new ventures are started from University and the process of generating new spin out companies.

    15 credits
    Modelling Human Disease and Dysfunction

    The module will provide students with an understanding of how post-genomic biology impacts on our ability to understand, and treat, chronic diseases of the body. Students will be introduced to major experimental systems and approaches that are pertinent to disease modelling. These include genetically-tractable animal model and in vitro cellular systems (including stem cells). We will explore the principles involved in how these systems are exploited to develop new strategies for intervention, including new therapeutics. Critical evaluation of research papers will allow students to gain experience of analysing experimental work, data presentation and interpretation of results.

    15 credits
    Genomic Approaches to Drug Discovery

    The module will teach students the basis of small molecule and functional genetic screens, focusing on human disease.  Students will learn about the theory and practice of automated small molecule and genetic screens. Examples of screening methods that will be covered include traditional small molecule screens, modern functional genomics and high throughput phenotypic screens. The emphasis will be to appreciate every step that is involved in this process, from automation to analysis. The student will learn how the biotech, academic and pharmaceutical industry use these techniques to identify new candidates for potential therapies.

    15 credits

    The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption. We are no longer offering unrestricted module choice. If your course included unrestricted modules, your department will provide a list of modules from their own and other subject areas that you can choose from.

    Open days

    An open day gives you the best opportunity to hear first-hand from our current students and staff about our courses. You'll find out what makes us special.

    Upcoming open days and campus tours


    1 year full-time


    Throughout your degree, you’ll be taught through lectures, practical sessions, lab placements, tutorials and seminars. In small group teaching classes you’ll discuss, debate and present on scientific and ethical topics.


    Assessment is based on a combination of formal examinations, coursework assignments, debates, poster presentations and a dissertation.

    Your career

    You'll be equipped with the specialist knowledge and transferable skills to pursue exciting careers in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industries. Our graduates have secured roles as varied as working on Covid-19 vaccines and automating robots.

    Previous students have secured graduate jobs at companies including AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Horizon, Novagen, NIHR Cambridge, and Cancer Research UK. 

    If you choose to continue your research training, you’ll be ready to pursue a PhD. Previous students have been selected for PhDs at institutions such as Texas, Vienna, Montreal, Sheffield, Nottingham and Barcelona.


    Firth Court quad

    The School of Biosciences brings together more than 100 years of teaching and research expertise across the breadth of biology.

    It's home to over 120 lecturers who are actively involved in research at the cutting edge of their field, sharing their knowledge with more than 1,500 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students. 

    Our expertise spans the breadth and depth of bioscience, including molecular and cell biology, genetics, development, human physiology and pharmacology through to evolution, ecology, biodiversity conservation and sustainability. This makes us one of the broadest and largest groupings of the discipline and allows us to train the next generation of biologists in the latest research techniques and discoveries.

    Entry requirements

    Minimum 2:1 undergraduate honours degree in a biomedical-related subject.

    We also accept medical students who wish to intercalate their studies.

    We also consider a wide range of international qualifications:

    Entry requirements for international students

    Overall IELTS score of 6.5 with a minimum of 6.0 in each component, or equivalent.

    Pathway programme for international students

    If you're an international student who does not meet the entry requirements for this course, you have the opportunity to apply for a pre-masters programme in Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield International College. This course is designed to develop your English language and academic skills. Upon successful completion, you can progress to degree level study at the University of Sheffield.

    If you have any questions about entry requirements, please contact the department.


    You can apply for postgraduate study using our Postgraduate Online Application Form. It's a quick and easy process.

    Apply now


    +44 114 222 2341

    Any supervisors and research areas listed are indicative and may change before the start of the course.

    Our student protection plan

    Recognition of professional qualifications: from 1 January 2021, in order to have any UK professional qualifications recognised for work in an EU country across a number of regulated and other professions you need to apply to the host country for recognition. Read information from the UK government and the EU Regulated Professions Database.

    BMST27 Off On