The Drug Discovery Game is an engaging, fun, interactive demonstration that serves as a springboard to a discussion of the methods used in medicinal chemistry.  Students (playing the role of medicinal chemists) are given seed capital money and challenged to invent a small molecule pharmaceutical starting with a central molecular scaffold and molecular fragments.  The demonstrator/teacher (playing the role of a biologist running an assay) provides logical feedback after each student’s attempt that guides the student toward the solution.  The game simulates portions of the workflow of medicinal chemistry research and launches discussions of such topics as the methods of modern drug invention, the cost of pharmaceuticals, molecular structure and design, and structure-activity relationships.

This website contains all that is required to play the game including a “how-to-play” video, instructions for set-up, rules, freely downloadable pieces for various puzzles, and some ideas for education discussion points.  The game has been employed as an educational outreach activity for upper elementary, middle, and high school students during “Take Your Child to Work Day” at a biotechnology company and utilized during introductory lessons in organic and medicinal chemistry on an undergraduate level.

The specific goals of the activity are:

  • Simulation of the medicinal chemist’s trial and error workflow that leads to the development of structure-activity relationships (SAR).
  • Illustration of the challenge of drug discovery by emphasizing the vastness of medicinal chemical space (with estimates as high as 1060 possibilities).1,2
  • Introduction of the concept that drug discovery research requires a significant investment. Currently, it is estimated that the cost to invent and develop a new pharmaceutical treatment is $2.56 billion.3



(1)  Polishchuk, P. G.; Madzhidov, T. I.; Varnek, A. Estimation of the Size of Drug-like Chemical Space Based on GDB-17 Data.  J. Comput. Aided Mol. Des. 2013, 27, 675-679. 

(2)  Bohacek, R. S.; McMartin, C.; Guida, W. C. The Art and Practice of Structure-Based Drug Design: A Molecular Modeling Perspective. Med. Res. Rev 1996, 16, 3–50.

(3)  DiMasi, J. A., Grabowski, H. G., Hansen, R. Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Industry: New Estimates of R&D Costs. J. Health Econ. 2016, 47, 20-33.