PharmSea: New Project for the Discovery of Bioactive Compounds from Marine Organisms

15 Feb 2013
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The PharmaSea project focuses on biodiscovery research and the development and commercialization of new bioactive compounds from marine organisms, including deep-sea sponges and bacteria, to evaluate their potential as novel drug leads or ingredients for nutrition or cosmetic applications. The international team of scientists is led by Professor Marcel Jaspars of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, and coordinated by Dr. Camila Esguerra of the University of Leuven in Belgium.

One of the aims of PharmaSea is to discover new marine bacteria that can produce novel antibiotics: "There’s a real lack of good antibiotics in development at the moment. There hasn’t been a completely new antibiotic registered since 2003. If nothing’s done to combat this problem we’re going to be back to a ‘pre-antibiotic-era’ in around ten or twenty years, where bugs and infections that are currently quite simple to treat could be fatal", says Marcel Jaspars, who is Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Marine Biodiscovery Centre at the University of Aberdeen. PharmaSea will also focus on drug discovery for neurological, inflammatory, and other infectious diseases.

Only a handful of samples have ever been taken from deep trenches and investigated, so the project is breaking new ground. "PharmaSea will not only be exploring new territory at the bottom of the oceans, but also new areas in ‘chemical space’. With our broad platform of cutting-edge bioassays to detect drug-like activity, we'll be testing many unique chemical compounds from these marine samples that have literally never seen the light of day. We're quite hopeful that we'll find a number of exciting new drug leads", says Dr. Camila Esguerra, Industrial Research Fellow and Lecturer with the Laboratory for Molecular Biodiscovery at the University of Leuven.

The international team will employ strategies commonly used in the salvage industry to carry out the sampling. Using fishing vessels, researchers will drop a sampler on a reel of cables to the trench bed to collect sediment. Scientists will then attempt to grow unique bacteria and fungi from the sediment that can be extracted to isolate novel drug-like molecules for pharmacological testing. Partners from China, Chile, Costa Rica, New Zealand and South Africa will support the PharmaSea project. The first field tests will be carried out next autumn in the Atacama Trench in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, about 100 miles off the coast of Chile and Peru. The team will also search the Arctic waters off Norway and the Antarctic via Italian and South African partners. Deep trenches will also be accessed off New Zealand and China.

Marine organisms that live more than 6,000 meters below the sea level are considered to be an interesting source of novel bioactive compounds as they survive under extreme conditions. "Trenches are separated from each other and represent islands of diversity. They are not connected to each other and life has evolved differently in each one", explains Marcel Jaspars.

Advanced Chemistry Development UK Ltd. (ACD/Labs) is proud to be a contributing partner to this project.

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