Director’s Corner

May 22, 2018

Medicinal chemistry (or drug discovery more generally) is hard. Some guidance for making it possible.

Most in the medchem community know Mark Murcko, who has established himself as a successful drug hunter in multiple contexts over a lengthy, yet still ongoing, career. In a somewhat unusual Perspective article in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, Mark expounds upon the attributes that he’s observed associated with successful medicinal chemists over the course of his career. Beyond generalities and platitudes, Mark offers some excellent guidance for scientists of all disciplines along with some further reflections on attributes more specific to medicinal chemistry. Drug discovery is difficult, but it can be done well.Contributed by: Jim Audia

General characteristics of great scientists
  • Intellectually curious and constantly learning
  • Tightly focused on important problems
  • Pragmatic
  • Obsessed with data
  • Sweat the details
  • Sense of urgency
  • Recognize great science happens everywhere
  • Savvy about and open to new technologies
  • Challenge assumptions
  • Passionate about their work
  • Aware of their own ignorance; they “know what they don’t know”
  • Resilient
  • Good communicators
  • Often have a very high emotional intelligence
  • Often selfless “unsung heroes”
  • Seek out mentors, and become mentors
Discipline-specific characteristics of medicinal chemists
  • Always thinking about the target product profile
  • Creative drug designers
  • Manage the properties of their compounds
  • Think in three dimensions
  • Always want another scaffold
  • Don’t panic over IP
  • Don’t give up on validated targets
  • Care deeply about biology
  • Always have a good idea of what to make next
  • Aren’t afraid of tough syntheses
  • Avoid unnecessary complexity
  • Re-use whatever they can
  • Know the history of drug discovery


What Makes A Great Medicinal Chemist? A Personal Perspective. Murcko MA. J. Med. Chem., Just Accepted Manuscript, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.7b01445, Publication Date (Web): 10 May 2018. (