Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seas To Be Scoured For Treasure Trove Of Medicines

Oceans could be awash with cancer cures and antibiotics, University of Strathclyde academics believe.

As part of the SeaBioTech project, a team led by Strathclyde’s Professor Brian McNeil has been awarded £6.3 million to scour the seas for chemicals and compounds that can be used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, food and industrial chemistry sectors.

Professor McNeil, of the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, told how – even though marine biodiversity is known to be far greater than that found on land – scientists know remarkably little about the full extent of the world’s underwater resources. He said: “Marine microbial biodiversity can only be guessed at. Very few studies have been done using modern detection techniques – but indications are that there are many new species of micro-organisms awaiting discovery.

Professor Brian McNeil 

“With the application of modern approaches to discovery and identification of such organisms and their products, it is now possible to explore them for potentially useful products, such as antibiotics, other anti-infectives, anti-inflammatories, and anti-cancer treatments. We’re looking to identify new products from the marine environment, such as antibiotics, and find ways to sustainably manufacture them on an industrial scale. We at Strathclyde excel in our ability to find new compounds – such as anti-cancer and anti-infective drugs – and have decades’ worth of experience in testing how effective they are.

“Our research has the potential to dramatically reduce the soaring costs of drugs, which are putting tremendous financial strains on health systems around the world. There are numerous examples of current medicines, including anti-cancer drugs, which cost tens of thousands of pounds per round of treatment for each patient. To address this issue, we will also carefully consider how these marine products, such as anti-bacterial agents, can be mass-produced at prices health services can realistically afford.

“Another crucial element of our work will be to look at legislation around international marine resources. We will put into the public domain a knowledge database which will define the source locations of marine resources. We also aim to contribute to evolving European legislation guiding the sustainable exploitation of these resources, in accordance with the Nagoya Protocol respecting the rules of the provider countries.”

The Nagoya Protocol was signed in Japan in October 2010 at the tenth Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The CBD – an internationally legally-binding treaty set up in 1992 – states its aims as “the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources, including by appropriate access to genetic resources and by appropriate transfer of relevant technologies, taking into account all rights over those resources and to technologies, and by appropriate funding”.

The Strathclyde SeaBioTech team includes Dr Ruangelie Edrada Ebel and Professors Linda Harvey and Alan Harvey, with Professor McNeil as overall programme co-ordinator. Professor McNeil said the 14-partner SeaBioTech project – which will last for four years – is harnessing an unrivalled European pool of knowledge in the field of marine biotechnology. He added: “To achieve our goals, we have brought together complementary and world-leading experts – integrating biology, genomics, natural product chemistry, bioactivity testing, industrial bioprocessing, legal aspects, market analysis, and knowledge exchange.

“The expertise assembled within the consortium reflects the industry-defined needs, from the definition of potential market and product opportunities to proof-of-concept activities. SeaBioTech will have a significant impact on research and technology, on innovation, on European competitiveness and on economic growth. It will also serve the wider purpose of providing a model to accelerate the development of European biotechnology into a world-leading position.”

Contacts and sources:
University of Strathclyde

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