Skip to content

Robert Falconer

Professor of Medicinal Chemistry

Faculty/Dept/School School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences
(Faculty of Life Sciences)
Telephone +441274 235842


Robert Falconer is a Registered Pharmacist, having obtained his pharmacy degree from The School of Pharmacy, University of London (now UCL School of Pharmacy). He undertook his pre-registration pharmacy training year at Joyce Green Hospital, Dartford, Kent. He then returned to academia in London, where he undertook a PhD in medicinal chemistry (2000). He was subsequently appointed Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Sciences.

A move to the new Institute of Cancer Therapeutics (ICT), University of Bradford followed (2005), to establish one of three new medicinal chemistry teams there. He is an academic responsible primarily for research, but also research-informed teaching (primarily the ICT’s post-graduate MSc courses) and the training of research students. He has served as Deputy Director of the ICT since Feb 2017, overseeing medicinal chemistry and drug discovery, and was promoted to Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in 2019.

He is a member of several professional and learned societies, notably the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and is a registered pharmacist with the General Pharmaceutical Council. As a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, he has previously served as Honorary Treasurer for the RSC Central Yorkshire Local Section Trust (2012-18).


Teaching interests

Robert's teaching activities are primarily focused on the application of medicinal chemistry to cancer drug discovery, with contributions to several modules across the ICT's MSc and MRes post-graduate courses in Cancer Drug Discovery, Cancer Pharmacology, and Drug Toxicology and Safety Pharmacology. He leads the Principles of Drug Discovery module (INC7014-B), which provides an overview of the various elements of the drug discovery process, from designing molecules, through in vitro screening, drug metabolism and ultimately clinical trials. He contributes to some modules in the MPharm Pharmacy and BSc Clinical Sciences degrees.
He regularly supervises research projects and dissertations for MSc/MRes and undergraduate students, including ERASMUS placement students from overseas partners, and is also a personal academic tutor for students undertaking the Foundation in Clinical Sciences course.


Robert’s interests are primarily focused on the tumour glycocalyx as a therapeutic target, and glycosyltransferases in particular, and in tumour protease-activated drug delivery. He is an experienced principal investigator and has secured funding from research councils and medical charities. He currently holds grants from Breast Cancer Now, Bone Cancer Research Trust, Incanthera Ltd, and co-leads a major £1.5m Yorkshire Cancer Research programme grant for cancer medicines discovery. He heads a team of 2 post-doctoral research assistants and 6 PhD students. He also leads the newly created Institute of Cancer Therapeutics Doctoral Training Centre, established in 2019 following a major 10-year investment by Incanthera Ltd (£2m).  
He has a keen interest and track record in knowledge transfer and cancer drug development. As lead medicinal chemist, he is co-founder and technology co-inventor of the ‘crocus smart-bomb’ (MMP-targeted anti-vascular agent ICT2588), which is being progressed to the clinic by Ellipses Pharma/Incanthera Ltd. Incanthera is an ICT/University of Bradford spin-out company ( He is co-inventor on four patents associated with this technology.  

Current Research Projects 

1. Anti-cancer agents targeting the tumour glycocalyx
This research is focused on the design, synthesis and biological evaluation of inhibitors of polysialyltransferase as a means by which to modulate tumour cell migration, invasion and metastasis. The polysialyltransferases are responsible for the tumour cell surface biosynthesis of polysialic acid (polySia), which plays a key role in the metastatic process in a number of cancers (see review: Curr. Cancer Drug Targets, 2012, 12, 925-939). We are employing computational methods to aid the inhibitor design process and have the capability to assess enzyme inhibition, cell-surface polySia decoration, and effects on cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion, cell migration and invasion. This work is currently supported by Yorkshire Cancer Research (programme grant), Neuroblastoma UK, and the ICT Doctoral Training Centre.

2. Endoprotease-activated therapeutics
This research is focused on the transformation of potent cytotoxic agents to inactive peptide-conjugates that are selectively activated within the tumour microenvironment. We are currently interested in the matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) which are a family of endopeptidases overexpressed in tumours. We are employing both solution and solid phase chemistry to synthesise peptide-based therapeutics with potent but selective cytotoxicity in vivo. Compounds are assessed for in vitro cytotoxicity, successful cleavage in tumour tissue, stability in normal tissues (liver, kidney, lung) and plasma, before being evaluated in vivo. We are also collaborating with the Daldrup-Link group (Standford University, USA) to develop a novel theranostic, which has shown efficacy in glioblastoma (see Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, 2017, 16, 1909-1921 and Nanotheranostics, 2019, 3, 299-310). Current projects are focused on development of treatments for breast cancer, prostate cancer and osteosarcoma. Our research is currently funded by Breast Cancer Now, Bone Cancer Research Trust, and the ICT Doctoral Training Centre.

Contract Researchers
NameDr Goreti Morais
RolePostdoctoral Researcher
ProjectICT Doctoral Training Centre
Duration10 years
NameDr David Pajtas
RolePostdoctoral Researcher
ProjectBreast Cancer Now
Duration2 years

Professional activities

  • 01-JAN-97: Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust - MRPharmS
  • 01-JAN-96: University of London, School of Pharmacy - BPharm (Hons)
  • 01-JAN-00: University of London, School of Pharmacy - PhD
  • 16-DEC-19: University of Bradford - Professor of Medicinal Chemistry
  • 01-SEP-13: University of Bradford - Reader in Medicinal Chemistry
  • 01-SEP-05: University of Bradford - Lecturer in Medicinal Chemistry
  • 01-JUN-03: UCL School of Pharmacy - Lecturer in Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • 01-OCT-00: UCL School of Pharmacy - Research & Teaching Fellow
  • Royal Society of Chemistry, Fellow, Royal Society of Chemistry
  • British Association for Cancer Research, Member, British Association for Cancer Research
  • European Association for Cancer Research, Member, European Association for Cancer Research
  • Amercian Association for Cancer Research, Member, Amercian Association for Cancer Research
  • Royal Society of Chemistry, Member, Royal Society of Chemistry
  • Royal Pharmaceutical Society / General Pharmaceutical Council, Member, Royal Pharmaceutical Society / General Pharmaceutical Council
  • 01-MAR-12: Honorary Treasurer, Royal Society of Chemistry Central Yorkshire Section,
  • 01-APR-16: Member, Kidscan Scientific Advisory Board ,
  • 01-JAN-16: Member, Neuroblastoma UK Scientific Advisory Board,
  • 01-JAN-18: Member, Scientific Advisory Board, Medical Research Charity Group/ Health Research Board Ireland Joint Funding Committee ,
  • 01-MAR-08: Ordinary Member, Royal Society of Chemistry Central Yorkshire Section,
  • 01-JAN-17: - Vice-Chancellor's Award for Excellence
  • Research Group Leadership: School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences Team Leadership Group Member
  • Programme & Module Management: Teaching Module Leadership: INC6001-B (Fundamentals of Drug Discovery)
  • Programme & Module Management: Teaching Module Leadership: INC7014-B (Fundamentals of Drug Discovery)


Peer Reviewed Journal
TitleTheranostic nanoparticles enhance the response of glioblastomas to radiation (2019)
AuthorsWu, W.; Klockow, J.L.; Mohanty, S.; Wu, W.; Aghighi, M; Melemenidis, S.; Chen, Z.; Li, K.; Ribeiro Morais, G.; Jurgen, S.; Graves, E.E.; Rao, J.; Loadman, P.M.; Falconer, R.A.; Mukherjee, S.; Chin, F.T.; Daldrup-Link, H.
TitleNovel Ran-RCC1 Inhibitory Peptide-Loaded Nanoparticles Have Anti-Cancer Efficacy In Vitro and In Vivo (2019)
AuthorsYusuf A. Haggag;Kyle B. Matchett;Robert Falconer;mohammad isreb;Jason Jones;Ahmed Faheem;Paul McCarron;Mohamed El-Tanani;
TitleRecent advances in the analysis of polysialic acid from complex biological systems (2019)
AuthorsGuo, Xiaoxiao; Elkashelf, Sara M.; Loadman, Paul M.; Patterson, Laurence H.; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalCarbohydrate Polymers
TitleExploring and Exploiting Acceptor Preferences of the Human Polysialyltransferases as a Basis for an Inhibitor Screen (2017)
AuthorsEhrit, J.; Keys, T.G.; Sutherland, Mark H.; Wolf, S.; Meier, C.; Falconer, Robert A.; Gerardy-Schahn, R.
TitleMembrane-type matrix metalloproteinases (MT-MMPs): expression, roles in metastatic prostate cancer progression and opportunities for drug targeting (2017)
AuthorsFalconer, R.A.; Loadman, P.M.
JournalJournal of Cancer Metastasis and Treatment
DOIDOI: 10.20517/2394-4722.2017.40
TitleRationalized Computer-Aided Design of Matrix-Metalloprotease-Selective Prodrugs (2017)
AuthorsJain, M.; Harburn, J.J.; Gill, Jason H.; Loadman, Paul M.; Falconer, Robert A.; Mooney, C.A.; Cobb, S.L.; Berry, David J.
JournalJournal of Medicinal Chemistry
TitleA novel theranostic strategy for MMP-14 expressing glioblastomas impacts survival. (2017)
AuthorsMohanty, S.; Chen, Z.; Li, K.; Ribeiro Morais, G.; Klockow, J.; Yerneni, K.; Pisani, L.; Chin, F.T.; Mitra, S.; Cheshier, S.; Chang, E.; Gambhir, S.S.; Rao, J.; Loadman, P.M.; Falconer, R.A.; Daldrup-Link, H.E.
JournalMolecular Cancer Therapeutics
TitleThe Effect of Polysialic Acid Expression on Glioma Cell Nano-mechanics (2016)
AuthorsGrant, Colin A.; Twigg, Peter C.; Saeed, Rida F.; Lawson, G.; Falconer, Robert A.; Shnyder, Steven D.
TitlePolysialic acid sustains cancer cell survival and migratory capacity in a hypoxic environment (2016)
AuthorsElkashef, Sara M.; Allison, Simon J.; Sadiq, Maria; Basheer, Haneen A.; Ribeiro Morais, Goreti; Loadman, Paul M.; Pors, Klaus; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalPLoS ONE
TitleThe use of thermographic imaging to evaluate therapeutic response in human tumour xenograft models (2016)
AuthorsHussain, Nosheen; Connah, David; Ugail, Hassan; Cooper, Patricia A.; Falconer, Robert A.; Patterson, Laurence H.; Shnyder, Steven D.
JournalScientific Reports
TitleAn optimised assay for quantitative, high-throughput analysis of polysialyltransferase activity (2016)
AuthorsElkashef, Sara M.; Sutherland, Mark H.; Patterson, Laurence H.; Loadman, Paul M.; Falconer, Robert A.
TitleNovel strategies for the synthesis of unsymmetrical glycosyl disulfides (2016)
AuthorsRibeiro Morais, Goreti; Springett, Bradley R.; Pauze, Martin; Schröder, Lisa; Northrop, Matthew; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalOrganic and Biomolecular Chemistry
TitleDevelopment of Novel Tumor-Targeted Theranostic Nanoparticles Activated by Membrane-Type Matrix Metalloproteinases for Combined Cancer Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Therapy (2014)
AuthorsAnsari, C.; Tikhomirov, G.A.; Hong, S.H.; Falconer, Robert A.; Loadman, Paul M.; Gill, Jason H.; Castaneda, R.; Hazard, F.K.; Tong, L.; Lenkov, O.D.; Felsher, D.W.; Rao, J.; Daldrup-Link, H.E.
TitleTumor-Targeted Prodrug ICT2588 Demonstrates Therapeutic Activity Against Solid Tumors and Reduced Potential For Cardiovascular Toxicity (2014)
AuthorsGill, Jason H.; Loadman, Paul M.; Shnyder, Steven D.; Cooper, Patricia A.; Atkinson, Jennifer M.; Ribeiro Morais, Goreti; Patterson, Laurence H.; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalMolecular Cancer Therapeutics
TitleCarbohydrate-based molecules for Molecular Imaging in Nuclear Medicine (2013)
AuthorsRibeiro Morais G.;Falconer R.;Santos I.
JournalEuropean Journal of Organic Chemistry
TitleMicro-community cytometry: Sensing changes in cell health and glycoconjugate expression by imaging and flow cytometry (2013)
AuthorsSmith P.;Falconer R.;Errington R.
JournalJournal of Microscopy
TitlePharmacological Inhibition of polysialyltransferase ST8SiaII Modulates Tumour Cell Migration (2013)
AuthorsAl-Saraireh, Yousef M.J.; Sutherland, Mark H.; Springett, Bradley R.; Freiberger, F.; Ribeiro Morais, Goreti; Loadman, Paul M.; Errington, R.J.; Smith, P.J.; Fukuda, M.; Gerardy-Schahn, R.; Patterson, Laurence H.; Shnyder, Steven D.; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalPLoS ONE
TitleNCAM polysialylation during adherence transitions: Live cell monitoring using an antibody-mimetic EGFP-endosialidase and the viability dye DRAQ7 (2013)
AuthorsSmith P.;Furon E.;Wiltshire M.;Chappell S.;Patterson L.;Shnyder S.;Falconer R.;Errington R.
JournalCytometry Part A
TitlePolysialyltransferase: A new target in metastatic cancer (2012)
AuthorsFalconer R.;Errington R.;Shnyder S.;Smith P.;Patterson L.
JournalCurrent Cancer Drug Targets
TitleSynthesis and biological evaluation of colchicine C-ring analogues tethered with aliphatic linkers suitable for prodrug derivatisation (2012)
AuthorsFournier-Dit-Chabert J.;Vinader V.;Santos A.;Redondo-Horcajo M.;Dreneau A.;Basak R.;Cosentino L.;Marston G.;Abdel-Rahman H.;Loadman P.;Shnyder S.;Díaz J.;Barasoain I.;Falconer R.;Pors K.
JournalBioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters
TitleAn optimized method for the synthesis of amino-functionalized phosphatidylcholine (2012)
AuthorsKong F.;Morais G.;Falconer R.;Sutton C.
JournalTetrahedron Letters
TitleIdentification of an acetyl disulfide derivative in the synthesis of thiosialosides (2010)
AuthorsMorais G.;Oliveira I.;Humphrey A.;Falconer R.
JournalCarbohydrate Research
TitleDevelopment of a novel tumor-targeted vascular disrupting agent activated by membrane-type matrix metalloproteinases (2010)
AuthorsAtkinson J.;Falconer R.;Edwards D.;Pennington C.;Siller C.;Shnyder S.;Bibby M.;Patterson L.;Loadman P.;Gill J.
JournalCancer Research
TitleA facile preparation of trehalose analogues: 1,1-thiodisaccharides (2009)
AuthorsRibeiro Morais, Goreti; Humphrey, Andrew J.; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalCarbohydrate Research
TitleSelective synthesis of Neu5Ac2en and its oxazoline derivative using BF3·Et2O (2009)
AuthorsMorais G.;Oliveira R.;Falconer R.
JournalTetrahedron Letters
TitleThe changing landscape of cancer drug discovery: a challenge to the medicinal chemist of tomorrow (2009)
AuthorsPors, Klaus; Goldberg, F.W.; Leamon, C.P.; Rigby, A.C.; Snyder, S.A.; Falconer, Robert A.
JournalDrug Discovery Today
TitleOptimized LC-MS/MS quantification method for the detection of piperacillin and application to the development of charged liposaccharides as oral penetration enhancers (2008)
AuthorsViolette A.;Cortes D.;Bergeon J.;Falconer R.;Toth I.
JournalInternational Journal of Pharmaceutics
TitleGuaianolide sesquiterpenes from Pulicaria crispa (Forssk.) Oliv. (2008)
AuthorsStavri, M.; Matthew, K.T.; Gordon, Andrew; Shnyder, Steven D.; Falconer, Robert A.; Gibbons, S.
TitleN-1-(4,4,-dimethyl-2,6-dioxocyclohexy-1-ylidene)ethyl (N-Dde) Lipoamino acids (2008)
AuthorsRoss, B.; Falconer, R.A.; Toth, I.
TitleApplication of HOF·CH3CN to the synthesis of glycosyl sulfones (2008)
AuthorsMorais G.;Humphrey A.;Falconer R.
TitleEfficient one-pot synthesis of glycosyl disulfides (2007)
AuthorsRibeiro Morais G.;Falconer R.
JournalTetrahedron Letters
TitleDesign, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation ofnovel lipoamino acid-based glycolipids for oral drug delivery. (2007)
AuthorsFalconer, Robert A.; Toth, I.
JournalBioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry
TitleSolid-phase synthesis of C-terminal thio-linked glycopeptides (2002)
AuthorsFalconer, Robert A.; Malkinson, J.P.
JournalTetrahedron Letters
TitleThe S-Xanthenyl group: potential for application in the synthesis of thioglycosides. (2002)
AuthorsFalconer, Robert A.
JournalTetrahedron Letters
TitleSynthesis of C-terminal Glycopeptides from resin-bound Glycosyl azides via a modified Staudinger reaction (2000)
AuthorsMalkinson, J.P.; Falconer, R.A.; Toth, I
JournalJournal of Organic Chemistry
TitleLipoamino acid based glycolipids for drug delivery (1999)
AuthorsFalconer, R.A.;Florence, A.T.;Toth, I.;
JournalJournal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology
TitleEfficient Synthesis of Thioglycosides via a Mitsunobu condensation (1999)
AuthorsFalconer, R.A.; Jablonkai, I.; Toth, I.
JournalTetrahedron Letters
TitlePolymeric lipoamino acid based C-glycosides for drug and peptide delivery (1998)
AuthorsWright, K.;Falconer, R.;Dekany, G.;Cocksedge, M.;Toth, I.;
JournalCarbohydrate Letters
TitleNovel liposaccharide conjugates for drug and peptide delivery (1998)
AuthorsDrouillat, B.;Hillery, A. M.;Dekany, G.;Falconer, R.;Wright, K.;Toth, I.;
JournalJournal of Pharmaceutical Sciences