Press release

Double delight as RSE honours Dundee experts

Published on 3 April 2024

Outstanding scientific research at the University of Dundee has been honoured by Scotland’s national academy

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The Royal Society of Edinburgh has presented the University’s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) with its prestigious Mary Somerville Medal, for teamwork and collaborative endeavour which has led to real world impact. Six compounds on which the DDU has worked have entered human clinical studies. In addition, their work has helped to enable the formation of six spin-out companies and nine exciting discoveries licenced to pharmaceutical companies.

Meanwhile, Professor Doreen Cantrell, from Dundee’s School of Life Sciences, has been awarded the Society’s Sir James Black Medal for her pioneering cell signalling and immunology research – the first woman to receive the honour.

Professor Cantrell is an international leader on cell signalling – the mechanisms that control the function of key immune cells – and has embraced technology to support her ground-breaking work.

The Drug Discovery Unit has been recognised by the RSE as having the largest academic drug discovery team in the world. The Society has also noted its multi-disciplinary, tightly coordinated, and large-scale translational research, and the real-world impact of its work.

The University is a recognised global leader for work in neglected infectious diseases, led by the DDU. This includes diseases such as malaria, leishmaniasis, chagas disease, cryptosporidiosis and tuberculosis.

The DDU also works to develop novel drug targets in a variety of disease areas, including oncology and neurodegeneration. The unit also hosts its Innovative Targets Portfolio (ITP), which encompasses high quality projects in therapeutic areas where there is a clinical unmet need.

The RSE also noted the DDU’s work, which has been published in the world’s leading journals, as bringing significant reputational benefit to both the University and Scotland.

Professor Ian Gilbert, Head of the DDU, said, “I am incredibly proud of the unit and our achievements over the last 18 years. Our success is due to the skilful and dedicated team of scientists who work together in a highly integrated manner.

“We also would like to acknowledge a large group of collaborators from across the globe from academia, industry and product development partnerships and funding agencies. Drug discovery is an incredibly complex process, and these collaborations are vital for our work.”

Pic of Prof Doreen Cantrell

The Sir James Black Medal recognises an academic’s achievements in life sciences and further enhances Professor Cantrell’s position as an inspirational figure in the sector.

She said, "I am honoured to accept this award on behalf of the amazing team of people that I work with in the School of Life Sciences.

“The spirit of collaboration in Dundee and the inspirational work of my colleagues has allowed me to develop a program of work that has generated new insights about the molecular pathways that control the function of lymphocytes, key cells that control adaptive immune responses to viruses and cancer.

“I would also like to acknowledge the long-term support I have received from the Wellcome Trust. They had the vision to support my move to Dundee more than 20 years ago and their continued support has made possible the discoveries that are being recognised.”

Professor Sir John Ball, President of the Royal Society of Edinburgh said, “Nominated by RSE Fellows, the prestigious medals of the RSE recognise remarkable accomplishment. Working in diverse fields, this year's recipients join a distinguished cohort of trailblazers whose contributions advance our knowledge and positively impact lives worldwide. Their accomplishments underscore the depth and breadth of research talent in Scotland. I extend my warmest congratulations to all of them."


Roddy Isles

Head of Corporate Communication

+44 (0)1382 384910