S6 Lecture Series Looks Inside the World of Computational Chemistry and Drug Discovery

Former pupil, Nicholas Runcie (Class of '19) took centre stage at the recent S6 Lecture Series, broadcasting live from AstraZeneca in Cambridge, England. Currently pursuing an MChem degree in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, Nicholas shed light on his journey emphasising the intricacies of drug discovery and the pivotal role of computational chemistry.

As part of his Master's Degree, Nicholas is presently immersed in an industrial placement at AstraZeneca focusing on Computational Chemistry and Drug Design. Speaking candidly to pupils, he delved into the challenges of creating new drugs, highlighting the extensive timeline involved - usually spanning 10 to 15 years from concept to delivery.

Nicholas, acknowledging his own journey, shared his shift from a less enjoyable experience in lab-based chemistry to the world of computational chemistry. He outlined the benefits of this field, particularly the ability to virtually test billions, if not trillions, of different molecules and simulate multiple experiments simultaneously. He also explained the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in drug design and drew attention to AI modules, such as chemical language models, that learn the composition of drugs and translate it into understandable language. Nicholas himself employs AI image generation technology, introducing the innovative Selective Iterative Latent Variable Refinement (SILVR) method last October.

During his presentation, Nicholas shared three invaluable lessons applicable to all pupils:

  1. Follow Your Passion: Nicholas emphasised the importance of pursuing subjects you are passionate about. His own journey involved exploring Computing Science but he quickly realised this wasn’t for him, which led him to Chemistry, a field he found fulfilling.

  2. Build Your Experience: Nicholas underscored the significance of gaining hands-on experience through extracurricular projects. He shared his early years at the University of Edinburgh, where he dedicated his free time to exploring computational chemistry through internships and shadowing opportunities.

  3. Network Effectively: Reflecting on personal experiences, Nicholas stressed the importance of networking. He recounted an event where a simple inquiry at an alumni event in Edinburgh  led him to a valuable connection in the field of drug design with a US based former pupil. He encouraged students to leverage the robust alumni network at Robert Gordon's College and connect with professionals via platforms like LinkedIn.

Nicholas’s inspiring talk and in-depth perspectives on the intricacies of drug discovery, the importance of networking, being passionate about subject choices and gaining as much work experience as possible made a lasting impression during the S6 Lecture Series. He is excited to return to Robert Gordon’s College next year to speak in person and deliver additional  workshops  at the College. Nicholas said “I was delighted to be invited to speak at the S6 lecture series in November. I have gained so much from the school and Gordonian network, and I love to give back whenever I can. I shared my experience in artificial intelligence and drug design and I hope that I have inspired the pupils to explore career paths they may have never previously considered. I emphasised three key points in my talk: find a career you love, always build experience, and networking is key! I look forward to returning next year to be a part of this series in person.”