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About us2021-03-14T11:37:14+00:00

Our history

Vernalis Research is based at Granta Park in Cambridge, UK. Here is a brief summary of our evolution and successes.



  • Announced the achievement of a milestone in the most recent oncology drug discovery collaboration with Servier,  established in 2017 on an undisclosed target.
  • Expanded the oncology research collaboration with Servier. The new three-year research collaboration combined Vernalis’ strengths in structure and biophysics-based methods with oncology expertise at Servier, to enable drug discovery related to several undisclosed proteins identified as potential therapeutic targets.
  • HitGen (Chengdu, China) acquired Vernalis (R&D) Limited from Ligand Pharmaceuticals Inc.


  • Announced the signing of a license agreement granting Cumulus Oncology exclusive worldwide rights to develop and commercialize VER250840, a novel, oral, selective, preclinical Chk1 kinase inhibitor (licensing agreement subsequently novated to Nodus Oncology, a subsidiary of Cumulus Oncology)
  • Announced the signing of a research collaboration agreement with PhoreMost on an undisclosed novel oncology target, identified and validated using its phenotypic screening technology. Vernalis Research will design small molecule inhibitors against the target, to help rapidly progress compounds through hit-to-lead and lead optimization stages


  • Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (NASDAQ: LGND) acquired Vernalis plc. Vernalis Research became a subsidiary of Ligand Holdings UK Ltd, wholly owned by Ligand Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
  • Success milestones achieved under drug discovery collaboration with Daiichi Sankyo on two undisclosed oncology targets
  • Achieved third success milestone from drug discovery collaboration with Asahi Kasei Pharma on an undisclosed target for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases


  • Achieved 3 milestones in oncology drug discovery collaboration with Servier, including Mcl-1 clinical candidate first time in man, and entered into a fourth research collaboration
  • Achieved a clinical milestone from an adenosine A2A receptor antagonist collaboration with Corvus Pharmaceuticals, who announced positive data from a Phase 1/1b study with single agent CPI-444 in patients with renal cell carcinoma
  • Entered into research collaboration with Daiichi Sankyo on undisclosed oncology targets


  • Achieved milestone in collaboration with Servier for Bcl-2 clinical candidate first time in man


  • Achieved research milestone in collaboration with Asahi Kasei Pharma
  • V158866, the lead molecule arising from our FAAH internal research programme, completed a phase II study in spinal cord injury patients
  • Licensed proprietary adenosine receptor antagonist technology, including lead A2A antagonist V81444 (later CPI-444), for development and commercialisation to Corvus Pharmaceuticals


  • Awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade, endorsing both our talent and capabilities, and recognising achievement in growing overseas earnings through research collaborations
  • Licensed worldwide rights in vipadenant, a small molecule A2A receptor antagonist, for use in immuno-oncology to RedoxTherapies (a BMS company)


  • Achieved a third milestone in a drug discovery collaboration with H. Lundbeck A/S
  • Entered into a research collaboration with Asahi Kasei Pharma on an undisclosed target for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases


  • Entered into a drug discovery collaboration with Genentech (now completed) utilising Vernalis’ fragment and structure-based drug discovery platform against an undisclosed target
  • Achieved a pre-clinical milestone in the first oncology research collaboration with Servier and entered into a third research collaboration


  • Positive results obtained from a Phase I trial of V158866, a FAAH inhibitor with potential application in a wide range of pain and other indications
  • Hsp90 inhibitor, NVP-AUY922 achieved clinical proof of concept
  • Two milestones from research collaboration with H. Lundbeck A/S on LRRK2 inhibitors obtained


  • Entered into a collaboration with H. Lundbeck A/S on LRRK2, inhibitors of which have utility for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease


  • Entered into a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (now completed) over a novel Vernalis oncology programme
  • Entered into a second oncology research collaboration with Servier


  • First research collaboration with Servier (which is still active); growing expertise in biophysical methods such as ITC and SPR


  • Research concentrated on Granta Park site with in-house projects on oncology targets


  • Hsp90 pre-clinical candidate partnered with Novartis, although this has since terminated and the rights have been returned to Vernalis


  • Series of mergers created Vernalis plc, combining the expertise of RiboTargets with CNS targets and GPCR pharmacology from Vernalis Group in Winnersh, as well as DMPK capability, a clinical pipeline and a marketed product, frovatriptan


  • Research changed focus to oncology protein targets; development of the SeeDs fragment-based discovery platform


  • Structure-based discovery of inhibitors of the 30S subunit of the ribosome; established X-ray crystallography


  • RiboTargets established fragment- and structure-based drug discovery against RNA targets; established macromolecular NMR spectroscopy

Our people

We have expertise in the key areas needed to characterise new protein targets, develop assays, identify and validate hits from fragments and other sources, evolve these into lead compounds guided by protein structure, and optimise these further to deliver drug candidates. Our team also has a well-established core of experience; many of us have worked together for over a decade, and this brings breadth and depth to our knowledge pool.

Mike Wood PhD
Mike Wood PhDManaging Director
Mike Wood has been Managing Director since 2019, and previously held the role of Research Director from 2004. He has overseen the continued strengthening of capabilities in structure and fragment-based drug discovery. His focus has been on the pragmatic adaptation of the most effective methods for rapid assessment of therapeutic targets and driving projects to deliver clinical candidates. Before becoming Research Director at Vernalis, he was Head of Pre-clinical Development at RiboTargets, and he started his industrial career at Smith Kline and French in 1986.
Clare Searle ACA
Clare Searle ACAFinance Director
Clare Searle joined Vernalis as Finance Director in January 2019. She is an accomplished Finance Director and business advisor, with experience in finance, strategy, and operational planning across a broad range of industries. Clare qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 2004 and worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers for 16 years, primarily in the Advisory Practice and with a focus on restructuring and turnaround, as well as a number of secondments to multinational corporations and banking institutions. Clare also holds a BSc in Biology and MSc in Allergy and Immunology.
James Murray PhD
James Murray PhDResearch Director
Dr James Murray has been with Vernalis Research for twenty years, having previously held research roles in the USA and Australia. His time with the Company has focussed on optimising its drug discovery process. This has primarily been through innovation in the use of biochemical and biophysical tools, with a particular emphasis on the hit-to-lead stage. He has a proven track record, with over 50 peer reviewed scientific papers, 13 granted patents and 22 active patent applications. He has also co-led the Mcl-1 and Bcl-2 collaborations with Servier, leading to two compounds in active clinical development.
Professor Rod Hubbard
Professor Rod HubbardSenior Fellow, Vernalis Research and Emeritus Professor, Chemistry, University of York
Rod is responsible for initiating, building and coordinating external collaborations at Vernalis, exploiting a scientific reputation built on nearly 40 years of academic and commercial research. He was a founding Scientific Advisory Board member of RiboTargets in 1997. He joined what became Vernalis in 2001 to establish protein structure and fragment-based discovery methods at the company, retaining his chair at York where he continued research with methods for chemical biology and industrial biotechnology. He is recognised as an international leader in the development and promotion of fragment-based discovery and consults with pharmaceutical and technology companies around the world.
Karen Benwell
Karen BenwellDirector of Biochemistry
Karen Benwell has been with Vernalis since 1997 and currently holds the role of Director of Biochemistry. Karen began her career in the Microbiology Department at the General Hospital Birmingham and since then has held roles at Wyeth Research (CNS Division), the MRC and Cerebrus. Currently her department comprises three teams; Protein Science, Assay Technology and DMPK. These teams support all projects, both collaborative and in-house, from pre-project stage through to clinical development.
Paul Greaney
Paul GreaneyDirector of IT & Informatics
Paul Greaney has been Director of IT & Informatics since 2003 after initially joining Ribotargets in 2001. Prior to this he had worked in various computational chemistry, informatics and IT roles at Proteus Molecular Design and Protherics. He has guided Vernalis IT infrastructure in support of its various business strategies both in the UK and North America managing a wide range of business change projects. His key focus is on the delivery of optimum decision support tools to colleagues and in particular to the drug discovery teams.
Sam Carford MCIPD
Sam Carford MCIPDHR Director
Sam Carford is HR Director and responsible for setting and delivering all aspects of the people management strategy, including talent acquisition, reward & recognition and employee engagement. Sam is a chartered member of the CIPD and has over 15 years HR experience, mostly gained at Vernalis during her first tenure. Sam re-joined the company in 2019, having held generalist positions in the software technology sector.
Sharon Maine
Sharon MaineFacilities and Purchasing Manager
Sharon Maine has been Facilities and Purchasing Manager since 2017, and has had a role in purchasing and corporate administration at Vernalis since 2012. She supports our scientific teams through the safe operation of the building, its services and equipment. Sharon is responsible for procurement of supplies and equipment, and is the primary contact for relationships with our vendors. Sharon is committed to increasing productivity by implementing practices that comply with environmental policies, and improve safety and efficiency, whilst reducing operating costs.
Andy Massey PhD
Andy Massey PhDHead of Oncology and Cell Biology
Dr Andy Massey has been with Vernalis for 19 years and joined the company after completing his PhD and a short post-doc with Cancer Research UK. At Vernalis, he has co-led several drug discovery programs including Hsp90 and Chk1 leading to several clinical and preclinical candidates. His group focuses on the development and application of cellular assays to support and progress compounds from target validation to hit ID, and then through lead optimisation and into early pre-clinical development. He is an author on nearly forty peer reviewed scientific publications.
Ben Davis PhD
Ben Davis PhDResearch Fellow, Structural Biology
Dr Ben Davis is an NMR spectroscopist and biophysicist by training. His current research focus is applying FBLD methods to drug discovery programs involving challenging targets and systems. Ben studied for his PhD in protein folding and ligand binding with Professor Alan Fersht at Cambridge University, and then studied molecular interactions between small molecules and biomolecules, both protein and RNA. He has contributed to six books over the last decade, and has been an author on more than thirty scientific publications. He is a frequent speaker at scientific conferences and has been running FBLD training workshops since 2007.
Paul Brough PhD
Paul Brough PhDSenior Team Leader, Chemistry
Paul Brough joined the Company in 2001, having previously held a role at Knoll Pharmaceuticals. He has a keen interest in fragment- and structure-based drug discovery, and has led med chem programmes on several collaborated projects at Vernalis, from hit ID through to clinical lead status. He was instrumental in the early evaluation and successful implementation of off-rate screening as a new hit ID platform at Vernalis. He has co-authored several patents and publications, particularly in the field of Hsp90 molecular chaperone inhibitors and structurally-related kinases.
James Davidson PhD
James Davidson PhDSenior Team Leader, Medicinal and Computational Chemistry
James Davidson has been with Vernalis for 24 years, joining the company shortly after gaining his PhD from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. During this time, James has worked on numerous protein target classes and therapeutic indications, and is a co-inventor on over 20 patents. Most recently he has led the chemistry efforts on projects targeting Bcl-2 family proteins for cancer. Alongside project direction, James heads up our scientific computing and software development team, whose goal is to provide tools that help our scientists make the best decisions possible, as efficiently as possible.
Andrew Potter PhD
Andrew Potter PhDSenior Team Leader, Chemistry
Andrew Potter joined what became Vernalis in 1998 after PhD and post-doctoral work at the Universities of Liverpool and Nottingham. As a medicinal chemist, he has a wide range of experience in discovery efforts towards RNA, kinase and PPI targets in CNS and oncology areas. He has been involved with, and coordinated, drug discovery collaborations in the US, Japan and France, from hit ID to late-stage lead optimisation. Andrew is responsible for academic outreach with scientists worldwide with an interest in synthetic methodology and medicinal chemistry.
Lee Walmsley
Lee WalmsleySenior Team Leader, Chemistry
Lee Walmsley has been with Vernalis since 2001 and, prior to that, was with Roche for 9 years. Lee has led successful drug discovery projects in collaboration with our partners based in Europe, USA and Japan. He is a champion of bringing new methodologies to our chemistry group. Leading a small technology team, he has established our flow chemistry capabilities and augmented this with state of the art organometallic, electrochemical, redox and photocatalytic chemistry.
Douglas Williamson PhD
Douglas Williamson PhDSenior Team Leader, Chemistry
Douglas Williamson joined the company in 2001, having previously held roles at the University of Oxford and Parke-Davis/ Pfizer in Cambridge. Douglas is a medicinal chemist and project leader, with expertise in the structure- and fragment-based design of novel lead compounds, and their optimisation towards drug candidates for oncology, inflammation and neurological disorders. He has led chemistry efforts on in-house and external collaborations, and has co-authored many patents and publications, particularly in the areas of A2A antagonists and inhibitors of Hsp70 and LRRK2.

Join our team

At Vernalis, our greatest success is the science that delivers drug candidates to our collaborators for development into new medicines. This success is totally dependent on the people who form our team of dedicated, excellent scientists and research technology experts who, together, strive to solve some of the most complex challenges in the discovery of the next generation of medicines.

We pride ourselves on our approach, with collaboration at the heart of what we do best. We achieve this by combining knowledge and expertise across functions and disciplines through our open and inclusive working environment. We work hard, but always make the time to celebrate our successes.

We look for skilled and versatile individuals who are passionate about what they do, and are ready for the challenges and rewards of working in a stimulating and innovative, team environment. In return, we offer a comprehensive reward package that includes bonus, private medical insurance and a generous pension contribution.

Current job openings are shown below. If there are none at this time and you are interested in what we do, send your CV and a covering email to

As part of any recruitment process, we collect and process personal data relating to job applicants. Our job applicant privacy notice is available here.


Posted 4 weeks ago