Making Medicines

Medicinal chemistry is the science of developing new drugs to treat diseases.

Medicinal chemistry has saved countless human lives, and has alleviated untold suffering, during the 20th – 21st centuries. And it continues to be a vitally important endeavour today: for example, at this very moment, medicinal chemists are working feverishly around the globe to discover a cure for COVID-19.

When developing a new medicine, it is important to ensure that the molecule can travel to the correct location within the body. As part of this, a careful balance must be struck between the molecule’s solubility in water (which enables the drug to be swallowed as a tablet, and dissolve in the gut) and its solubility in fat (which enables the drug to cross the lining of the gut, and get into the bloodstream).

What Students will do

Medicinal chemists can alter the structure of a drug molecule, in order to fine-tune its properties such as water / fat solubility and thereby identify the optimal drug.

In this SciX experiment, students will do just that: they will systematically modify the structure of a drug candidate, and they will measure the properties of their “analogues” to identify which chemical structure gives the best drug-like properties.

This experiment will give students an insight into the grand challenge that is medicine development in the 21 st century.

Prerequisite Study

  • Chemistry

Areas of Student Interest

  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Synthesis
  • Experimental Lab-based Chemistry
  • Medicines
Siobhan Wills

Academic Lead: Dr Siobhan Wills - Lecturer, School of Chemistry

Siobhan is an organic chemist by training, but also studied languages at university. She used her “international science” degree to study and work in Europe, focusing on making small molecules for solutions in medicinal chemistry and crop science.

When she returned to Australia, she decided she loved being surround by all kinds of scientific research, but preferred to teach people about the amazing discoveries rather than being in the lab all the time. She took on a role as an education-focussed lecturer. Now, Siobhan concentrates on teaching and researching how best to teach and communicate chemistry. She thinks it’s the best of both worlds, but admits she might be biased!


Luke Hunter

Academic Lead: A/Prof Luke Hunter - Associate Professor, School of Chemistry

Luke is an organic chemist whose research program aims to discover new molecules that can treat diseases. Luke's lab specialises in making fluorinated molecules, where the fluorine atom is designed to cause the molecule to “fold up” into a shape that is pre-organised for binding to the biological target. Something like molecular origami. As is typical for a medicinal chemist, Luke interacts a lot with collaborators in other disciplines such as biology, pharmacology and medicine. Outside work, Luke loves reading, music, and trying to keep up with his kids on a skateboard.

Patrick Ryan

Mentor: Patrick (Paddy) Ryan - PhD Student, School of Chemistry

Paddy is a 2nd year PhD student working in Medicinal Chemistry. Specifically, he tries to make medicines that are more efficient and safer, by changing little bits of a molecule at a time or swapping out groups of atoms for fluorine atoms. Paddy love science and research because discovery is fun! It's an awesome feeling when you find out something interesting, sometimes agonisingly frustrating when things don't go to plan, but rewarding when you realise you have finally made something truly new. Outside of chemistry, Paddy enjoy sport, surfing and cooking to name just a few. He also have a dog, "Billie" who is the best.

Mentor: Jason Holland - PhD Student, School of Chemistry