Medicinal chemistry, an amalgamation of chemistry and the life sciences, is a multidisciplinary field that applies chemical (i.e., synthetic, analytical, theoretical and/or physical chemistry) principles to investigations of biologically active substances that include therapeutically useful drugs, natural products, toxins and drugs of abuse. Investigations may be focused on identification of biological mechanisms of action, rational drug design and synthesis, metabolism studies, identification of pharmacological tools, or the development of techniques necessary to perform such studies. The discipline requires an understanding of both the chemical and biological processes involved; thus, in addition to a solid background in chemistry, the medicinal chemist is required to be versed in biological sciences such as biochemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, molecular biology, enzyme mechanisms, receptor theory and/or neurochemistry, depending upon the student’s interests.
In addition to research, the curriculum consists of two general components: core courses and elective courses. All master's students are required to take core courses that include: medicinal chemistry (MEDC 591 and 601), advanced medicinal chemistry (MEDC 610 or 620), research techniques (MEDC 526), seminar (MEDC 690), biochemistry (BIOC 503 or 504), pharmacology (PHTX 691), advanced organic chemistry (CHEM 604) and molecular modeling (MEDC 541). Specific courses may be recommended on the basis of the result of placement exams administered during the first week of enrollment. Master's candidates also are required to present one non-thesis seminar and a final seminar on their research. Depending upon their interests, and in consultation with their chosen dissertation adviser, students select from a variety of elective courses such that their graduate program can be specifically tailored to their future research or career goals. Most graduate students begin their research during their first year and are encouraged to present the results of their research in oral and poster format at various local, state and other scientific meetings. Most advanced graduate students also participate in laboratory and classroom teaching, and some as tutors, to enhance their teaching proficiency and presentation technique. Well-prepared students, depending upon the nature of their research, should be able to complete all master’s degree requirements within approximately two and a half years.
Research resources include state-of-the-art molecular modeling facilities, synthetic organic chemistry laboratories, X-ray crystallographic equipment and access to high-field nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers. The department’s research interests are closely interwoven with the VCU Institute for Structural Biology and Drug Development, which is housed on the campus and to which many departmental faculty belong.
At present, the research interests of the department include synthesis and biological evaluation of new compounds; molecular-graphics assisted drug design; determination of relationships between chemical structure and biological activity; studies of drug action; receptor binding studies; theoretical studies on structure-activity relationships of drugs, including the use of molecular orbital theory, X-ray crystallography, computational chemistry and molecular connectivity; and rational design of new drugs and studies on drug metabolism.