Marine Natural Products Drug Discovery

Drug discovery represents one of the most promising and highly visible outcomes of marine biotechnology research. Biochemicals produced by marine invertebrates, algae and bacteria, are very different than those from related terrestrial organisms and thus offer great potential as new classes of medicines. To date, examples of marine-derived drugs include an antibiotic from a fungi, two closely related compounds from a sponge that treat cancer and the herpes virus, and a neurotoxin from a snail that has painkiller properties making it 10,000 times more potent than morphine without the side effects. However, there are several more marine-derived compounds currently in clinical trials and it is likely that many more will advance to the clinic as more scientists look to the sea for these biotechnological uses. In addition to new medicines, other uses for marine-derived compounds include: cosmetics (algae, crustacean and sea fan compounds), nutritional supplements (algae and fish compounds), artificial bone (corals), and industrial applications (fluorescent compounds from jellyfish, novel glues from mussels, and heat resistant enzymes from deep-sea bacteria).

Primary research and market analysis shows sponges and marine animals to be the largest source of pharmaceutical products. In terms of geography, North America is expected to be the largest market for marine based pharmaceuticals. The history of marine-derived products began from cod-liver oil, shark oil, and calcium supplements. Marine biotechnology has developed over the years propelled by the unmet needs for new and innovative pharmaceutical products. Potential pipeline drugs being developed are anti-viral, anti-cancer drugs from byrozoans, anti-microbial, and anti-inflammatory. 

Marine natural products had become an established sub-discipline of natural products chemistry, and several thousand compounds had been described. Some groups of marine organisms were fairly well characterized for their major metabolites, and more often known compounds or their close relatives were being re-encountered. Emphasis on microorganisms has been rewarded with a wealth of new natural products chemistry, as well as the realization that many compounds previously isolated from macro organisms, such as sponges and tunicates, are actually metabolic products of associated microbes. As a result, a number of groups around the world have sought to culture marine bacteria from various sources, including shallow and deep water sediments, animate as well as inanimate surfaces, and from within the tissues of other macro organisms. 

  • Collection, biological screening and secondary testing
  • Production of material for clinical evaluation and investigation
  • Wading, scuba and trawling
  • Submersible collections
  • Innovative methodologies for isolation and structural elucidation
  • Marine novel metabolites
  • Current research methods in marine sources
  • Marine chemical ecology
  • Marine chemical warfare and human health
  • Marine sponges as sources of new drug leads
  • Process of marine and natural drug discovery

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