Welcome to Graduate Studies in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences

Research training in the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences (DDBS) in the South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP) at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) encompasses the understanding of disease mechanisms and drug toxicity, and the design and development of pharmaceutical agents.
Graduate students trained in Pharmaceutical Sciences bring the fundamentals of the physical and biological sciences to health-related research, and can pursue various exciting career options in academia, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, or government agencies upon completion of their degree.

The job market for new Ph.D.s in drug discovery and the biomedical sciences is one of the best in the physical or biological sciences. The Department is committed to being a leader in the discipline and concentrates its research efforts in two areas, Bioorganic/Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology & Toxicology (aka cell death, injury and regeneration). Both of these focus areas complement the broad-based research foci of the Medical University as a whole (Drug Discovery, Structural Biology, Pharmacology, etc.).


Specific areas of research in Bioorganic/Medicinal Chemistry include identification of new drug targets; rational and computer-aided drug design, drug synthesis and analysis; development of novel delivery systems; drug metabolism; and bioorganic and molecular immunology. Faculty working primarily in this area include Drs. Beeson, Chou, Dix, Patrick, Peterson, Smith, Townsend and Woster.

Research programs in Pharmacology & Toxicology include mechanisms of drug action; drug- induced cell injury, death and regeneration; mitochondrial biology; and molecular and cellular pharmacology & toxicology with faculty including Drs. Beeson, Chan, Lemasters, Niemenen, Peterson, Schnellmann, Smith, Townsend, and Zhong.


All MUSC graduate students complete a common first-year core curriculum that includes 3 required research rotations, and at the end of the first year they choose their research advisors and create their programs of study. During the first year, students can receive exposure to Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences by doing laboratory rotations and/or taking an elective courses as described below. Students choosing Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences concentrate in either the Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry track or the Cell Death, Injury and Regeneration track, based on their choice of laboratories. Students typically complete the didactic part of their training during their second year of their program.  

2nd Year Course Offerings for Students in DDBS

Course Number Title Depts Credit Type Min/Max Credits
DDBS 712 Drug Discovery and Molecular Pharmacology DDBS 1 3.00


Environmental Stress Signaling DDBS 1 4.00


Light Microscopy for the Biological Sciences DDBS 1 1.00
Advanced Medicinal Chemistry DDBS 1 3.00
Organ Systems Toxicology DDBS 1 3.00
Mitochondrial Biology DDBS 1 2.00
Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences Seminar Series DDBS 1 1.00
Special Topics in Drug Discovery DDBS 1 0.5 – 15.00
Research DDBS 1 0.5 – 15.00
Master’s Thesis DDBS 1 0.5 – 15.00
Doctoral Dissertation DDBS 1 0.5 – 15.00

Suggested Elective Courses

BMB 535A Bioorganic Chemistry BMB 1 4.00
BMB 711 Statistics for Biochemistry BMB 1 2.00
PCOL 721 Advanced Principles of Pharmacology DDBS 1 1.00

Required Courses

Pat Woster @ MUSC

Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Track - Required Courses

Students in the Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry track are required to take DDBS 712 and DDBS 741 for a total of 6 credits. Remaining didactic requirements (see below) are satisfied by selecting additional DDBS or elective courses, seminar (DDBS 780) and Special Topics in Drug Discovery. Each student must also complete the required number of dissertation credits (DDBS 970 or 990). The exact sequence of courses is decided mutually between the student and dissertation advisor, and are formalized in the Plan of Study document.

Cell Death, Injury and Regeneration Track

Students in the Cell Death, Injury and Regeneration track are required to take DDBS 712 and BMB 535A for a total of 7 credits. Remaining didactic requirements (see below) are satisfied by selecting additional DDBS or elective courses, seminar (DDBS 780) and Special Topics in Drug Discovery. Each student must also complete the required number of dissertation credits (DDBS 970 or 990). The exact sequence of courses is decided mutually between the student and dissertation advisor, and are formalized in the Plan of Study document.

Program Objectives

The primary area of research training of the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences is in the molecular aspects of the in vitro and in vivo interaction of pharmaceutical agents with other chemicals, both biological and non-biological. Studies in this field include, for example, drug discovery, development of drug candidates as potential therapeutic agents, the delineation of the metabolic profiles of drugs or foreign substances in man and animals, the factors (environmental, disease, etc.) which affect these profiles, the nature and catalytic properties (molecular mechanisms and the relationship of structure to biological effect and function) of the enzymes responsible for metabolic reactions, and the delineation and modification of the factors involved in the in vitro and in vivo stability of pharmaceutical chemicals. Research in these areas requires a strong integration and understanding of chemical and biological approaches to pharmaceutical problems. These are the key disciplines around which other expertise revolves and serve as the foundation for rigorous research endeavors in the field.

Graduates of the program must possess the necessary skills to develop quantitative and qualitative methodologies to pursue studies to elucidate and evaluate the chemical transformations and interactions that occur in vitro and in vivo. These skills include the synthesis, purification, and structural determination of organic compounds, the isolation and quantitation of compounds in biological matrices, and the development, formulation, and analysis of drug delivery systems. Scholars with these skills bridge the key interface between the more traditional physical sciences and the health-related biological sciences.

The Ph.D. Program

The Doctor of Philosophy degree is considered the mark of highest achievement in preparation for creative scholarship and research. It is the highest degree conferred by our universities and, by nature and tradition, is a research degree. It is not conferred merely as a certificate of completion of a prescribed course of study and research. Every PhD-offering department has the responsibility to assure that the degree be granted only to candidates who have demonstrated present capability and future promise for scholarly work and independent research - in other words, to be independent and creative thinkers.

The University, the College of Graduate Studies, and all Ph.D.-offering departments have defined responsibilities toward their graduate programs and graduate students. Their major responsibility is to provide the most favorable environment possible in which graduate students can develop their potential for creative scholarship and independent research to their maximum ability. This environment comprises the graduate faculty, academic course work, the research facilities, the library resources, and a stimulating group of capable graduate students in each department. The selection and screening process of graduate students is, therefore, a very serious responsibility of our Department. Students who reach the level of PhD candidate should be those who have demonstrated the necessary intellectual ability, motivation, and drive necessary to take maximum advantage of the provided environment in the development of their potential as creative scholars and independent research investigators. It is the objective of our Department to produce the very best research scientists and scholars possible.


Program Requirements

Program Overview

Graduate students of the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences are members of the MUSC Graduate School and as such must satisfy both the requirements of the Graduate School and those of the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences. The pertinent requirements of the Graduate School are listed in the General Catalog of the University and are summarized in the Graduate Student Handbook available from the College of Graduate Studies. These requirements deal with scholarship, residence, supervisory committees, research dissertations, examinations (general and final), etc. Departmental requirements invariably exceed those listed by the Graduate School because programs of study for graduate degrees are the responsibility of departments in which the training occurs. The Graduate School and Departmental requirements for the PhD degree in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences (summarized in the flow chart at the end of this section) are as follows:


A minimum of three academic years of resident study is required for the PhD degree; two of these must be at MUSC. Residence requires 15 credit hours per semester. The thesis research must be conducted at MUSC unless the research is of a collaborative nature requiring off-campus facilities.

Annual Review of Student Progress

At the end of each Spring semester, all students will be required to submit an annual review form to the Graduate Coordinator, using a format provided by the department, and a cover sheet required by the COGS. This form can be updated annually, and will serve as a record of the achievements of each student. Prior to annual submission, the form should be reviewed by the Major Advisor, who will add comments concerning the student's progress. The form should then be signed by both the advisor and the student.

Qualifying Examination:

Students will take a written qualifying exam at the beginning of the summer directly following the completion of their 2nd year coursework. The exam will be comprehensive and largely based on their first and second year coursework. Students failing the written examination may retake the exam no more than 30 days after the initial failure. A second failure is grounds for dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

Upon successful completion of the written qualifying examination, the student will assemble an Advisory Committee with the aid of his or her major advisor, and will develop a research plan written in NIH proposal format (see Plan of Research and Candidacy Examination below). The research plan will be given to the Advisory Committee at the end of the summer and the student will present the proposal in a seminar format as part of the Candidacy Exam in the beginning of the Fall semester. The Candidacy Examination requirement must be completed before the end of the fall semester of year 3.

Student Advisory Committee:

The Student Advisory Committee for each trainee will consist of at least five members. The advisory committee must include at least three faculty from DDBS (one of whom must be a DDBS faculty member from the Columbia campus) and at least one MUSC faculty member from outside the department. The chairperson (advisor) and all committee members must be members of the graduate faculty of the MUSC College of Graduate Studies. The advisory committee should be organized no later than the summer following year 2. The names of committee members will be forwarded through the departmental Graduate Coordinator for approval by the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies. All members of the committee must be free of all potential conflicts of interest or personal relationships with the candidate.

The advisor will be responsible for coordinating the activity of the Student Advisory Committee and ensuring compliance with graduate school regulations. The student must meet at least once a year with his/her Advisory Committee from the time of appointment of the committee until completion of the requirements for the degree. The departmental Graduate Coordinator and the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies must be notified in writing that the annual meeting has taken place and a copy of the report must be placed in the student's departmental program file.

Coursework, Credits and Scholarship:

To satisfy the course requirements for a Ph.D. degree in the department, a minimum of 45 credits of didactic course work (exclusive of thesis and non-thesis research), must becompleted. All MUSC graduate students take a common first-year core curriculum that provides 45 credit hours (32 didactic and 13 research credits). Students are also required to complete 3 research rotations during the first year, after which they select a major advisor (see below). After the first year, all DDBS students are required to take an additional 13 didactic credit hours to complete the Ph.D. degree. Six or seven of these 13 credits should be selected from DDBS courses listed in the track selected by the student (either the Bioorganic/Medicinal Chemistry track, or the Cell Death, Injury and Regeneration track). The remaining credits can be any elective course offered at MUSC. The nature of these electives will depend upon the student's interest, needs, and recommendations of their research supervisor. For example, additional advanced courses in biochemistry, chemistry, immunology, mathematics, pharmacology, or pharmacokinetics could be highly appropriate.Graduate students must maintain better than a cumulative 3.00 GPA. Any grade of less than a 2.00 is grounds for dismissal from the program. Credits earned for a master's degree may be applied towards the doctoral degree. 

In addition to the didactic coursework described above, students in the department are required to register for 1 seminar credit each fall and spring semester. Seminar attendance is mandatory, and grades assigned in the seminar course will depend on student attendance and participation. Students who accumulate more than 2 absences from weekly seminars during the academic year will receive an unsatisfactory grade for the course. In addition, all students will be required to prepare and present a seminar every year that they are in the program past their first year. 

All students will be encouraged to carry an average of 16 units per semester. They will also be encouraged to include in this didactic training at least 9 credits (total) of electives exclusive of the core and specialty curriculum. 

Plan of Research:

The student will develop a written dissertation research plan in NIH proposal format under the guidance of his or her dissertation advisor. The proposal will be written on current NIH forms for an RO1 application, using the guidelines and format provided in the instructions. In addition to the 10-12 page proposal, the student should complete and include the following associated NIH forms: face pages 1 and 2, Project Performance Sites, Other Project Information, Key Personnel, Cover Page Supplement, PHS 398 Research Plan (your 10-12 page proposal), PHS 398 Checklist. These forms are largely check boxes and information that can be found on the MUSC Office or Research and Sponsored Programs web site. Detailed instructions for completing these forms can be found on the NIH web site.

This proposal will also satisfy the Graduate College requirement for a 10-page research prospectus, not including references. In addition, the exercise will satisfy the NIH requirement for funded institutions to train students in grantsmanship. The complete research plan is to be submitted to the Advisory Committee at least two weeks prior to the oral presentation of his or her research plan as a part of the candidacy exam. At this time, the student will submit to the Advisory Committee and the Graduate School a tentative title and topic of his or her research project. If necessary, this title may be revised, but any revision must be made at least three months prior to the degree being conferred.

Financial Assistance:

 Financial support is available in two stages. During the first 14 months, a student will be supported either through a competitive stipend from the Graduate School or from the Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences Dept. After the first 14 months, a student will be supported either from a grant through his/her research supervisor, from outside fellowships such as those from the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education, or by departmental support. No student will be guaranteed funding after five years in the program. 

Students receiving financial support are expected to maintain good academic standing and make normal progress toward completion of their degree requirements in order to remain competitive. Students in this category can usually anticipate financial assistance throughout their normal graduate career. Since support is intended to allow the student to pursue their degree full-time, employment outside of the department is strongly discouraged, and may result in loss of departmental support.

Major Advisor and Plan of Study: All graduate students at MUSC are admitted to the College of Graduate Studies (COGS), and are required to do three laboratory rotations prior to selecting their major advisor. Some students may have already selected an advisor prior to admission, while others have not. Graduate students all take a common first year curriculum that includes laboratory rotations, and in the summer following the first year, each student commits to a major dissertation advisor. At that time, each student must submit a Plan of Study to the graduate school that outlines the courses they will take during their tenure at MUSC. The Plan of Study must be submitted to the DDBS Graduate Coordinator, who will approve the document and submit it to the College of Graduate Studies.

During the fall semester of the second year, each student is required to complete and submit an Individual Development Plan. This can be accomplished by visiting the MyIDP site at myidp.sciencecareers.org. The site will generate a PDF copy of the IDP that can be submitted to the DDBS Graduate Coordinator. The plan can be updated as the student progresses through the remaining years of his or her program.

Candidacy Examination:

The student will present his or her dissertation research plan in a seminar format to his or her dissertation advisory committee (at the discretion of the advisor, the student may be required to make this presentation as a formal seminar to the entire department, but this is not a departmental requirement). A closed session oral exam with the advisory committee will immediately follow the presentation.

The candidacy examination requirement should be completed by the end of the fall semester of the third year. If the student fails the exam, he/she must retake the exam within a timeline dictated by the Advisory Committee. It is the discretion of the Advisory Committee to decide whether both sessions or only the closed session should be repeated. If the student fails the second exam, he or she will be dismissed from the program. It requires an action by the Graduate Council to determine whether the student should then enter a Master’s Program or be asked to withdraw from the Graduate School.

Research Progress:

Students will meet with their Advisory Committee at least once per year to informally present their research progress. If the research progress is deemed unsatisfactory, the Advisory Committee will recommend a corrective plan to the student.

Dissertation and Final Examination:

A final examination, the thesis or dissertation defense, is required for the M.S. or Ph.D. degree, respectively. The final examination will consist of two parts: presentation of the thesis or dissertation in a seminar format in an open session and a closed oral examination by the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee will have primary responsibility for evaluating the student's research, including the written dissertation and the formal oral presentation. Approval by the Advisory Committee, with no more than one dissenting vote, is necessary for recommendation for awarding the degree. The decision of the Advisory Committee will be forwarded to the dean of the Graduate School. The graduate faculty has the authority, which it has delegated to the dean, for final approval of the candidate for the awarding of the degree. In the event of disapproval, the candidate may be permitted to retake the examination in not less than six months and not more than two years from the time this decision was made. Only one opportunity for reexamination is given. Any candidate who is granted this privilege shall retain the status and obligations of a graduate student until the time of such re-examination. In the event that all thesis/dissertation work is not completed within four years following the candidacy examination, a second candidacy examination will be required.

Students must submit their thesis or dissertation in near-final draft form to their advisory committee at least 5 weeks before the final defense date, so that the committee has sufficient time to review it. Review of the thesis/dissertation by the advisory committee must be completed within 2 weeks, and if it is found to be ready for defense, each committee member will sign the Thesis/Dissertation Defense Form. The graduate school then requires that a completed Thesis/Dissertation Defense Form be filed at least 3 weeks before the date of the final defense. In order to be included in the graduation ceremony, the final defense should be completed prior to the deadline date set by the CGS.

Following the defense, three (3) copies of the printed thesis or dissertation must be submitted to the College of Graduate Studies for microfilming and binding. The CGS has requirements for format and weight of paper for each copy; consult with CGS to obtain these guidelines. Two copies of the bound thesis or dissertation are deposited in the the library, and the third is a copy for the DDBS library. If additional copies are required (self, advisor), they can be ordered through CGS by submitting extra hard copies. 

According to College of Graduate Studies policy, the major advisor is required to provide financial support for each student until the final draft of the thesis or dissertation has been submitted to the graduate school. Each student is required to submit this final draft no later than 30 days after the thesis or dissertation defense. 

The policies below are effective August 15, 2011 on both the MUSC and USC campuses.

1) All dissertation defenses will be broadcast to both campuses.

2) All dissertation defenses will be announced and scheduled at least two weeks prior to the defense.

3) It is the responsibility of the major professor to inform the departmental offices, Chair and Vice-Chair of dissertation defenses at least two weeks prior to the proposed defense date.

4) It is the responsibility of the major professor to ensure that all members of the student’s dissertation committee be present at all dissertation committee meetings scheduled in the final year leading to student’s final dissertation defense. 5) All committee members should be present at the final defense on the home campus of the student. Failure to follow these policies will result in rescheduling of the meeting/defense.

Participants in the ESSCC Training Grant:

For students wishing to participate in the departmental Training Grant there is the additional requirement that at least three Advisory Committee members are from the ESSCC Training Faculty. The Student Advisory Committee will be chosen by the student with the proposed dissertation advisor, and the names will be forwarded through the ESSCC Advisory Committee and the departmental Graduate Coordinator for approval by the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies. In addition to the departmental Graduate Coordinator and the Dean of the College of Graduate Studies, the ESSCC Program Director must be notified in writing of the annual committee meetings by the chairperson of the Advisory Committee. A detailed letter of evaluation of student progress in the program, whether from the Mentor or the ESSCC Advisory Committee, must be written to the student with a copy placed in the student's departmental program.

Additional Training and Student Enrichment

In addition to the didactic education and research activities required of predoctoral students, extracurricular activities chosen to enhance students' communication skills and the cohesiveness of the Program participants are required.

  • Each student presents a one-hour seminar as part of a yearly student seminar series. The student seminar series is integrated into the Spring semester of the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences regular seminar series and is open to students and faculty from all MUSC departments.
  • For the past 38 years MUSC has held an annual Student Research Day, which showcases research conducted on campus. The event provides students with a forum to make oral and poster presentations in an environment similar to that of a regional or national meeting. Each presentation is judged by a faculty committee and, in each section, first and second place monetary awards are given. Students are required to present a poster or talk each year in the Student Research Day.
  • A weekly seminar series organized by the faculty and students runs during the Fall and Spring semesters as part of the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences regular seminar series. The first few weeks of the Fall semester series are reserved for presentations by students as part of their oral examination. Students also meet as a group and select at least two outside speakers and a student representative works with the seminar series faculty coordinator to invite the two speakers, whom the students host.
  • There is a retreat each May involving students, postdoctoral fellows, and Program faculty. Students will present their research at the meeting.
  • Each student is required to participate in a yearly national scientific meeting by presenting a poster or talk.