A Promising Future for Marine Drugs and Natural Products

Natural products, although a valuable and precious resource, also come with their fair share of challenges in a variety of aspects. One of the major issues concerning the use of natural products are the difficulties associated with obtaining sufficient amounts of material pure enough for discovery and development activities. If a compound is derived from a plant growing only in small quantities or remote locations or a marine organism residing in great depth or difficult to access regions, re-supply becomes a problem. The threat of losing potentially valuable natural sources of pharmacologically active ingredients is constantly increasing due to the threat of extinction by deforestation of large landmasses and environmental pollution in remote areas as well as global warming. It is estimated that about 70% of the supply of herbal raw material for Ayurveda medicines and other homeopathic medicines in India comes from the wild. To meet the increasing demand for raw material, to conserve wild resources, and to reduce the potential variability in the active ingredient content in medicinal plants from different collection areas, it is important to implement more controlled cultivation programs to ensure quality and to protect resources 

Natural product screening remains one of the most useful avenues for bioactive discovery. In the past decades, studies on MNP have been focused mainly on macroorganisms, i.e., sponges, corals and other marine invertebrates, although significant developments have been made in the microorganisms area. However, despite the large number of NCEs isolated from marine organisms, many of them with pronounced biological activity, the great majority does not surpass the pharmaceutical pre-clinical trials and only a very few have been marketed as pharmaceutical products. Besides the usual drawbacks in any drug discovery process, the industrial development of many promising MNP was hampered by additional difficulties such as sustainable source and issues related to structural complexity and scale up. Nevertheless, the global marine pharmaceutical pipeline remains very active and includes, at the moment, eight Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Medicines Agency (EMEA) approved drugs and several compounds in different phases of the clinical pipeline.

The path for drug discovery from natural sources faces several challenges, starting with the access to the marine environment followed by chemical and biological characterizations of the promising natural products, which are often isolated in minute amounts. Consequently, advancements in sampling techniques, structure determination strategies as well as target-identification methods represent crucial steps in marine drug discovery. In order to conduct preclinical and clinical trials and further develop a promising compound into a marketed drug, continuous supply is a necessity. The supply problem is one of the major challenges facing marine natural product drug discovery.

  • Improved bioavailability
  • Relevant mechanisms of action
  • Most potent inhibitors
  • Less unwanted side effects
  • Potential drug targets encoded by human genome
  • Innovations in marine natural products research

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