Small Molecule Drug Discovery Project Awards

About this scheme

Key information

Career level
Post doc
Early career researcher
Established independent researcher
Non-clinical researcher
Research area
Drug discovery
Pre-clinical research
Preliminary submission
Final submission
Committee review
Funding period
Typically 1 to 3 years*
Funding amount
Typically £100,000 per annum*
These Awards support research towards identification/validation of new targets, and the discovery of novel small molecule therapeutic/preventative agents.

You should be:

  • A scientist, clinician or health care worker with a salaried position for the full duration of the award
  • Based at a UK university, medical school, hospital or research institution

You don’t need prior experience of working in drug discovery, but early interaction with a professional drug discovery partner, such as a CRUK Drug Discovery Unit will enhance your application.

We also support collaborative projects between an academic partner and a commercial partner if appropriate.

Scientific remit

This scheme funds projects at any stage of drug discovery, from target validation to early preclinical studies. We particularly welcome applications at the target validation stages.

Examples of eligible studies include:

  • Validation of new therapeutic targets
  • Novel therapeutic approaches to validated targets
  • Discovery and development of new small molecule agents, including immunomodulatory agents
  • Hypothesis driven drug repositioning / repurposing studies
  • Development of associated assay or platform technologies for small molecule drug discovery

Applications will not be considered for preclinical development studies (e.g. bulk synthesis/ manufacture to GMP, toxicology to GCP).

Funding support is provided for:

  • Typically 1-3 years
  • Typically £100,000 per year*
  • Salaries for postdoctoral researchers and technical staff
  • Running expenses
  • Equipment up to £15,000 if required for the project

This scheme will not support the salary for the lead applicant. For a detailed breakdown of costs which are permitted, please download our Costs Guidance (PDF).

*Proposals which fall outside of this timeline or funding amount may be considered with sufficient justification.

How to apply to this scheme

Overview of the application process

Applications are considered twice a year and follow a three-stage process:

  1. Discussion: you must contact the research funding manager for an informal, confidential discussion about your proposed project. We will advise you on forming suitable collaborations and ensure you are considering all necessary criteria within your proposal. Once the project is ready for a formal application we will open this on our electronic Grants Management System (eGMS).
  2. Outline: you must submit a short outline application, which will be reviewed by the Small Molecule Expert Review Panel (SMERP) prior to being invited to submit a full application.
  3. Full application: if your outline application is successful you will be invited to submit a full application and attend an Interview with the SMERP.

Final funding decisions will then be made by the Drug Discovery Committee.

At the full application stage we encourage applicants to contact one of the CRUK Drug Discovery Units, or another group with appropriate experience, for guidance in structuring the research proposal and associated project plans.


Outline applications Full applications Interviews Funding decisions
16 May 2019 3rd September 2019 15/16th October 2019 November 2019


Before you begin your application

You must read the following documents before starting your application 

  1. Application guidelines (PDF 915KB)
  2. Grant conditions

You must contact the research funding manager to discuss your proposal and open an application through eGMS.

Assessment criteria

Applications are assessed on their potential to deliver a novel preventative or therapeutic approach.

The Small Molecule Expert Review Panel will judge your proposal on:

  • Scientific excellence: all applications must have a strong scientific rationale to support the proposed research proposal.
  • Cancer-relevance: likely to advance how cancer is understood, diagnosed or treated.
  • Collective track record: the team should demonstrate their combined strengths and potential to produce outstanding results.
  • The strength of your research team, research environment and collaborations in providing access to drug discovery expertise.
  • The translational work plan, which should include:
    • Achievable milestones with go/no-go decision points
    • The specific deliverables of the project, for example assays, models or tools
    • A plan for further progression and the potential line of sight to the clinic at the end of the award

The Drug Discovery Committee will assess whether the application aligns with our Research Strategy.


When you first contact us to discuss opening your application, we will discuss with you whether suitable collaborations are in place to support the project. We will be able to provide guidance on:

  • Whether a Drug Discovery Unit may be able to assist your application
  • Alignment of your project with the expertise of the individual unit
  • Areas the unit will likely consider when assessing the feasibility of a collaboration

Working with a CRUK Drug Discovery Unit, or other professional drug discovery partner (academic or commercial) with experience of developing drug discovery proposals and project plans, will enhance your application for example by:

  • Providing guidance on target validation necessary to engage a drug discovery partner to assist in the future development of your project
  • Aiding you in defining specific milestones for the project, with associated go/ no-go decisions points
  • Providing access to facilities and expertise (e.g. high-throughput screening or medicinal chemistry)
  • Provide access to unique assays, models and chemical tools
  • Participating in regular meetings to aid in project management and guiding the future direction of the project.

Our Drug Discovery Units seek to collaborate with the academic community as experts in specific areas of cancer biology. Potential applicants are not expected to have extensive experience of small molecule drug discovery. The aim is to build long lasting collaborations.

Resources to support your application

Target validation and biomarker guidance notes: an overview of the criteria that are necessary in order to confidently validate a target as having a role in the progression of a cancer disease state. Please note that an application does not need to include each aspect listed.

Applications are assessed by the Small Molecule Expert Review Panel. Final funding decisions are made by the Drug Discovery Committee.

Cancer Research UK contact details

If you have any questions aboout the eligibility of your proposal for this scheme, or require any assistance with your applicaton, please contact the funding manager.

Dr Rupal Mistry

Research Funding Manager

Tel: +44 (0) 203 469 8732

Exploring a new direction in immunotherapy

Edd James, an established immunologist, is using funding from our Small Molecule Project Award to take his first steps into drug discovery and translate his understanding of antigen processing in cancer into a therapeutic context.

Our drug discovery infrastructure

To support our investigator-led drug discovery research we have made extensive investment in infrastructure for biotherapeutic and small molecule drug discovery.