Small Molecule Discovery Center
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The Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC), in the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, UCSF School of Pharmacy, collaborates with academics, government labs, and pharmaceutical companies to develop unique chemical probes and leads for important targets that address unmet medical needs.

Why now?

Major research institutes, funding agencies, and the public are eager to see academic research lead to advances in human health. This desire is made particularly acute by the perceived low productivity of the pharmaceutical industry and by the industry’s response, which is to cut internal budgets for drug-discovery research. Without basic advances in drug discovery, what will be the source of the next generation of drugs?

The SMDC offers an appropriate mix of industrial and academic expertise needed to advance research programs focused on developing new chemical probes with therapeutic potential. The SMDC collaborates with academic labs and pharmaceutical companies to discover compounds that bind to target proteins in vitro or in cells and can be used to modulate the protein and cellular functions.

Our research has four key aims, to:

  • Design probe molecules that can be used to characterize the functions of particular proteins or drive specific cellular phenotypes.
  • Develop new technologies that enable us to target proteins currently considered undruggable.
  • Discover compounds that could be turned into drugs for diseases such as neurodegeneration and tropical diseases, which are largely neglected by the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Educate basic scientists and healthcare professionals in modern drug discovery.

Our tools and technologies include high-throughput screening (HTS), novel fragment-based ligand discovery approaches, and medicinal chemistry. The HTS core facility in the SMDC is open to all members of the academic community and to pharmaceutical companies. The scientists at the SMDC are also engaged in grant-funded research focused on important problems in chemical biology and drug discovery.

Why here?

The Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry is an ideal home for the SMDC. Department research focuses on exploring fundamental biological mechanisms and molecules of therapeutic relevance for better health, empowered by novel technologies at the interface of chemistry, physics, and computational sciences.

The UCSF Mission Bay campus, located along the eastern edge of San Francisco, is the perfect location for the SMDC to execute its mission. It is home to several institutes for biomedical research, including the Cardiovascular Research Institute, the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the Cancer Center, and the Gladstone Institutes. The SMDC is affiliated with the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (qb3), whose mission is to facilitate interdisciplinary and applied research, support the formation of new science-based companies, and encourage academic-industrial partnerships.

The SMDC is an active participant in each of these aims. Three companies have been formed from work initiated with the SMDC, and we frequently collaborate with new and established pharmaceutical companies. Scientists at the SMDC are actively engaged with drug discovery consortia, including the Academic Drug Discovery Consortium, the Chemical Biology Consortium (part of the NCI Experimental Therapeutics program (NEXT)), and with pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Genentech, Janssen, and Pfizer, through shared grants and sponsored research.


The Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC) occupies custom built laboratory space on the fifth floor of Byers Hall at the UCSF Mission Bay Campus.

SMDC at UCSF Mission Bay Campus
MC2552 Byers Hall S504
1700 4th Street
San Francisco, CA 94158-2330