The reported competition STD NMR method combines saturation transfer difference (STD) NMR with competition binding experiments to allow the detection of high-affinity ligands that undergo slow chemical exchange on the NMR time-scale. With this technique, the presence of a competing high-affinity ligand in the compound mixture can be detected by the disappearance or reduction of the STD signals of a low-affinity indicator ligand. This is demonstrated on a BACE1 (β-site amyloid precursor protein cleaving enzyme 1) protein–inhibitor system. This method can also be used to derive an approximate value, or a lower limit, for the dissociation constant of the potential ligand based on the reduction of the signal intensity of the STD indicator, which is illustrated on an HSA (human serum albumin) model system. This leads to important applications of the competition STD NMR method for lead discovery: it can be used (i) for compound library screening against a broad range of drug targets to identify both high- and low-affinity ligands and (ii) to rank order analogs rapidly and derive structure–activity relationships, which are used to optimize these NMR hits into viable drug leads. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.