General information

The WEHI National Drug Discovery Centre (NDDC) is an academic drug discovery centre with quality, capabilities and scale comparable to pharmaceutical industry standards.

The NDDC has a track record of successful drug development with industry partners. 

The NDDC is embedded within world-class biology research at WEHI, positioning it to deliver first-in-class, innovative drug discovery projects. The NDDC is active from target discovery to preclinical candidate stage.

Read our strategic plan

The NDDC capabilities can be accessed by any type of entity, for-profit or not-for-profit, based in Australia or overseas, for drug discovery projects ranging from target validation to lead optimisation stages.

The NDDC has a track record of successful drug development with industry partners, most of them being headquartered overseas. Previous and current partners include global pharmaceutical companies, innovative small and medium-sized biotechnology companies, and academic research centres.

Small molecule screening work can be subsidised by the Australian government under a specific funding scheme, available to users from Australia’s academic and bio-pharmaceutical sectors (academic institutions and small and medium enterprises). A number of subsidised screens are available each year for eligible researchers through the support of a grant from the Australian Government Medical Research Future Fund. An expert review panel meets periodically to select the successful applications for subsidised screens.

In 2019, WEHI received $25 million from the Australian Government through the Medical Research Future Fund and $18 million from the Victorian Government. These funds build upon WEHI’s own $32 million investment, as well as previous Victorian Government support and generous philanthropic donations.

These investments support the expansion of the NDDC and its accessibility to the medical research community in Australia.

Our screening facility is equipped with two high-throughput robotic platforms, providing capability for both biochemical and cell-based assays (up to PC2/BSL2 enclosure standard). These platforms are highly configurable and can support a wide variety of detection modalities, including:

  • high-throughput mass spectrometry
  • whole-plate fluorometric imaging (FLIPR)
  • absorbance
  • fluorescence
  • fluorescence polarisation
  • FRET
  • time-resolved fluorescence
  • luminescence
  • high-throughput flow cytometry
  • high-content imaging

The facility uses acoustic dispensing technology for accurate volume measurement. It is configured to operate in either 384- or 1536-well format and is capable of screening well over 100,000 compounds per week.

More information

No. We aim to assist researchers in the development of innovative therapies to treat all types of human diseases.

MRFF subsidised screens for Australian researchers

The NDDC has received funding from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to enable it to offer a fixed number of high-throughput small-molecule screens to Australian researchers at a generous subsidy.

Applications for subsidised screens are open to researchers from Australian research institutions and small-to-medium enterprises. An expert review panel meets periodically to select the successful applications.

Researchers who are not eligible to apply for subsidised screens are encouraged to contact us regarding the possibility of collaborative or contract-based projects.

If you are awarded a subsidised screen, MRFF funding enables us to transfer your developed assay to our high-throughput robotic platform. If possible, we will miniaturise your assay to 1536-well format to minimise the costs and we will test up to 300,000 small-molecules in a single-point primary screen. Initial hits will be further assessed with a 5- or 10-point dose-response assay and an appropriate counter-screen.

The chemical structures and the activity of the hits will be shared with you in the final report, together with vendor information (if available) to assist you in sourcing the compounds. You will have full ownership rights to new intellectual property generated from the screening results of your subsidised screen.

To be considered for a subsidised screen, you will need to have a developed assay that meets the criteria detailed in the assay readiness requirements guide.

For example, your assay needs to be demonstrated in 96-well format and satisfy other criteria, such as minimum robustness, signal-to-background and component-stability requirements.

It is also essential that you or someone in your lab has hands-on experience in running the assay so you can successfully transfer it to us.

A fixed number of highly-subsidised screens is offered to the Australian medical research community, thanks to funding support from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). These very highly subsidised screens are only available to Australian academic partners and Australian small- and medium-sized enterprises who meet certain eligibility criteria.

As an indicative guide, successful applicants should expect charges of around $45,000 for a 300,000-compound screen, provided the NDDC is able to miniaturise the assay to 1536-well format. Half of this fee would be payable upfront, with the balance upon receipt of the final report.

Smaller screens may also be possible, although the cost per compound will be higher. Screens that need to be run in 384-well format are also generally more expensive on a per-compound basis. The NDDC is unable to conduct work in 96-well format.

Applying for an MRFF subsidised screen

Access to a subsidised screen follows a submission process designed to select the most promising research projects in Australia.

To apply, you will need to:

  1. Meet the assay readiness requirements 
  2. Complete a Mutual confidentiality agreement
  3. Request a login to our secure application portal
  4. Complete an online application form available on our secure application portal

Proposals are assessed according to their scientific quality and rationale, feasibility and innovation.

Our activities are overseen by a National Steering Committee - a panel made up of experts in biological sciences, translational biology and drug discovery, assembled from Australian and international research organisations.

The Committee is responsible for selecting the most promising project applications, with the aim of translating Australian medical research discoveries into new treatments for human disease.

Yes. Unsuccessful applicants are encouraged to re-apply in subsequent rounds once any identified shortcomings have been addressed. We encourage you to discuss your application with us before resubmission.

Yes. There are currently no restrictions on submitting more than one application.

In most rounds, four applications will be selected for a subsidised screen. 

Cut-off dates for application rounds will be published on our website.

To be kept informed of key dates and information join our mailing list using the form at the bottom of this page.

Yes. Prospective applicants are highly encouraged to contact us to discuss your drug target or screening assay, or if you have other questions about your application.

No. If you don’t have your own compound collection, the NDDC can access high-quality diversity libraries, stored under controlled conditions in a specialised compound storage facility at Compounds Australia.

Intellectual property for subsidised screens

Yes. Before you share any confidential information, please download and complete the Mutual confidentiality agreement form.

You will have full ownership rights to new intellectual property generated from the results of your subsidised screen.

If the screening campaign is successful in generating active ‘hits’, the applicant will receive a list of the most active structures via secure file transfer.

Any new intellectual property arising from the hit list is owned by the applicant, subject to a Service Terms contract. Applicants are then free to pursue further development however they desire.

The screening process for a subsidised screen

Once your application has been accepted, we will liaise with you to initiate the assay transfer.

We then reproduce the data generated in your laboratory and optimise, miniaturise and finally, automate your assays.

At this point, the assay is tested via a pilot screen, running approximately 10,000 compounds in duplicate. If the pilot screen is successful (returning the expected hit rate and robustness), the full-scale screening campaign will commence.

We will test up to 300,000 small molecules in your assay (single point). Hits from this screen will be triaged according to their effect, using thresholds determined by our screening experts. Hits interfering with the technology will be filtered out through a counter-screen assay. Finally, the potency of the hits will be determined with a 5- or 10-point dose-response assay.

We will liaise closely with you to ensure the smooth transfer of your assay to our facility. 

The MRFF-funded subsidy is offered specifically for the high-throughput screening stage of the project, and is aimed at supporting innovative translational research. For this reason, it is essential that you already have hands-on experience in running the assay.

Once in the NDDC, your assay will be miniaturised if possible and adapted to a format suitable for high-throughput screening.

You will receive regular updates on progress of the screening campaign. After the screen is complete, you will receive data and a final report.

The final report will include:

  • a detailed standard operating procedure of both the primary and counter-screen assay
  • global statistics on the performance of the screening campaign
  • details of the activity thresholds and filtering strategy that were determined by our team and used to triage
  • the hits selected for progression along the screening cascade
  • chemical structure, commercial information (including supplier and catalogue ID where possible) and the activity of the hits in the primary assay and in the counter-screen.