Group of students

Doctor of Philosophy

Danyelle Townsend, co-interim chair of the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences and director of the MUSC Analytical Redox Biology Core. 

Research training in the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences (DDBS) at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) encompasses the understanding of disease mechanisms, the design and development of new pharmaceutical agents and the biochemical basis for drug toxicity. Graduate students trained in drug discovery and biomedical 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 several related areas, including medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology and natural product identification. All of these focus areas complement the broad-based research foci of the Medical University as a whole, and DDBS faculty collaborate with scientists from many disciplines across campus and world-wide. By nature, our research is translational, and in many cases, able to be commercialized. We are also highly entrepreneurial, with 5 spin-off companies spawned from faculty research.

Specific areas of research include

  • identification of new drug targets
  • rational and computer-aided drug design
  • virtual and high-throughput or high-content screening
  • chemical synthesis and lead optimization
  • drug metabolism and molecular immunology

We also feature research programs aimed at the study of mechanisms of drug action, drug-induced cell injury, death and regeneration, mitochondrial biology and molecular and cellular pharmacology and toxicology.

List of the faculty and their research interests

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 elective courses as described below. Students typically complete the didactic part of their training during their second year of their program. 


All MUSC students complete the same interdisciplinary first year curriculum, which provides each student with a comprehensive background in biochemistry, enzymology, cell and molecular biology, genetics, physiology and cancer biology. There are also lectures included that address the scientific literature, professionalism and research grant writing techniques. Although many students come to MUSC with a particular dissertation advisor or program in mind, each student is required to complete three 9-week research rotations.

DDBS Graduate Course Offerings

  • Course Number DDBS 701 - Drug Discovery I - Pharmacology
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 2.00


  • Course Number DDBS 702 - Drug Discovery II - Medicinal Chemistry
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 2.00


  • Course Number DDBS 726 - Drug Discovery III - Advanced Medicinal Chemistry
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 2.00


  • Course Number DDBS 727 - Drug Discovery IV - Advanced Pharmacology
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 2.00


  • Course Number DDBS 715- Environmental Stress Signaling
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 4.00


  • Course Number DDBS 722 - Light Microscopy for the Biological Sciences        
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 1.00


  • Course Number DDBS 741 - Organ Systems Toxicology
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 3.00


  • Course Number DDBS 780 - Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences Seminar Series
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 1.00


  • Course Number DDBS 790 – Special Topics in Drug Discovery
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 0.5-15.0


  • Course Number DDBS 970 – Research
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 0.5-15.0


  • Course Number DDBS 980 – Master's Thesis
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 0.5-15.0


  • Course Number DDBS 990 – Doctoral Dissertation
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 0.5-15.0   


Suggested Elective Courses

  • Course Number CGS 830 – Drug Discovery - From Target to Therapeutic
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 1.0


  • Course Number CGS 888 – Basic Principles of Drug Discovery and Development
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 2.0


  • Course Number BMB 711– Statistics for Biochemistry
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 2.0

  • Course Number PCOL 721– Advanced Principles of Pharmacology
    • Credit Type: I
    • Min/Max Credits: 1.0


Required Courses

All DDBS students are required to take the DDBS Core Courses (DDBS 701, 702, 726 and 727) for a total of 8 credits. All remaining didactic requirements (see below) are satisfied by selecting additional DDBS or elective courses, seminar (DDBS 780) and Special Topics in Drug Discovery (DDBS 790). Each student must also complete 15 dissertation credits (DDBS 990). The exact sequence of courses is decided mutually between the student and his or her dissertation advisor, and are formalized in the Plan of Study document.

Example of a Program of Study for completion of the Ph.D. degree in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences:

  • 32 didactic credits from CGS common 1st year curriculum
  • 13 research credits from CGS common 1st year curriculum
  • 8 credits from DDBS Core Courses
  • 5 credits of electives
  • 6 credits from DDBS 780 (seminar)
  • 6 credits DDBS 790 (Special Topics)
  • 5 credits DDBS 970 (Research)
  • 15 credits of DDBS 990 (Doctoral Dissertation)

                                                Total: 90 credits


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 department offering the Ph.D. degree 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 departments offering a Ph.D. degree have defined responsibilities for support of their graduate program and graduate students. Their major responsibility is to provide the most favorable environment possible in which graduate students can develop their potential for a career in independent research at 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 Ph.D. candidate should have demonstrated the necessary intellectual ability, motivation, and drive necessary to take maximum advantage of the 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.

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 involve 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, and the nature and catalytic properties of metabolic and biosynthetic enzymes. Research in these areas requires a strong integration of chemical and biological approaches to pharmaceutical problems. These are the key disciplines that serve as the foundation for rigorous research endeavors in the drug discovery 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.


Graduate students in the Department of Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences are members of the MUSC College of Graduate Studies (CGS), and as such must satisfy both the requirements of the Graduate School and those of the Department. 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 CGS. These requirements deal with scholarship, residence, supervisory committees, research dissertations, examinations (general and final), etc. Departmental requirements invariably exceed those listed by CGS because programs of study for graduate degrees are the responsibility of departments in which the training occurs. The CGS and departmental requirements for the Ph.D. degree in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences 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.

Coursework, Credits and Scholarship

To satisfy the course requirements for a Ph.D. degree in the department, a minimum of 48 credits of didactic course work (exclusive of thesis and non-thesis research), must be completed. 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. Eight of these credits are earned in the required DDBS core course sequence (DDBS 701, 702, 726 and 727). The remaining 5 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 unexcused 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 during their third year of study.

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 CGS or by a Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences faculty member. 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 NIH or the American Foundation for Pharmaceutical Education, or by some other external award. 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 CGS, where they remain throughout the first 14 months. During this period, they are required to complete three laboratory rotations prior to selecting their major advisor. 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. Some students may have already selected an advisor prior to admission, while others have not, but all students must complete at least one of the three rotations in another laboratory. 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 CGS. 

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 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.

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 CGS. 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. Questions will be research-based essay questions. 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 and at least one MUSC faculty member from outside the department. The chairperson (advisor) and all committee members must be members of the MUSC graduate faculty. 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 CGS. 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 CGS 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.

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 in the current NIH format for an RO1 application, using the guidelines and format provided in the instructions. A detailed description of the current NIH format can be found on the NIH web site. This proposal will also satisfy the Graduate College requirement for a 10-page research prospectus (references are not included in the 10-page limit). In addition, completion of the Plan of Research 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 CGS 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.

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 dissertation defense, is required for the Ph.D. degree. 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. 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 dissertation work is not completed within four years following the candidacy examination, a second candidacy examination will be required. 

Students must submit their 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 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, the dissertation is submitted electronically according to the guidelines of the graduate school. If hard copies are desired (self, advisor), they can be ordered through CGS on request. 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 on June 15, 2018:

  1. All dissertation defenses will be announced and scheduled at least two weeks prior to the defense.
  2. It is the responsibility of the major professor to inform the departmental office and the department Chair of dissertation defenses at least two weeks prior to the proposed defense date.
  3. 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.
  4. All committee members should be present at the final defense. Failure to follow these policies will result in rescheduling of the meeting/defense.

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 during the spring semester of their third year. 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.
  • Each year, MUSC holds 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 encouraged to present a poster or talk each year at 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.