Archive for Thursday, June 18, 1998


June 18, 1998


Continued from page 1A

chemical compounds,'' she said.

Among the new finds:

  • Bryostatin, made from moss-like animals that live on pier pilings, just became the first marine anticancer product to enter Phase II testing as a possible therapy for deadly melanoma. Although it's owned by Bristol-Myers Squibb, the National Cancer Institute is paying for all testing.

``It's still early,'' cautioned NCI's Dr. Anthony Murgo. But ``we're interested in novel agents. It seemed to have anti-cancer activity that's somewhat different'' than other drugs.

  • Two rare marine molecules completely block a serious arthritis inflammation, said pharmacologist Robert Jacobs of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The molecules could help develop an alternative to steroid therapy because they ``virtually wipe out'' the cell process that swells joints, he said.
  • Cone snails emit toxins that paralyze and kill prey, a neuromuscular block that could help epilepsy, Pompani said.
  • Scripps just discovered a seaweed fungus chemical named halimide that killed drug-resistant cancer cells in test-tube studies. Another Scripps fungal find, halovir, is a never-before-seen type of antiviral that appears to kill herpes.

Money to research ocean chemicals is severely lacking, Fenical said. Most large drug makers ignore the resource, he said, but some biotech companies are starting to license promising compounds from taxpayer-funded scientists. ``We virtually give these things away,'' he said.

The federally funded National Sea Grant, which promotes academic-industry research partnerships, funds $8 million a year in marine biotechnology programs. The NCI spends about that much screening potentially promising marine compounds.

But the field goes beyond medicine: Those super-absorbent oyster shells show ocean compounds can lead to bioengineered products.

Clemson University scientists discovered that amino acids in the shells form gels that can absorb 100 times their weight in water. Analyzing the chemical structure, they created new polymers that are attracting industry attention because they could help clean oil spills or speed water treatment.

``They're even talking about it in diapers,'' Kupfer said. ``And it's biodegradable, ... so there's not a lot of waste to muck up.''

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