Harbor Branch to receive $2.1 million of a $4.9 million multi-institutional grant to discover new natural product leads for cancer chemotherapy

October 31, 1999

The University of Minnesota, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Oregon State University, the University of California-Santa Cruz, and Novartis, Inc. have been awarded a four-and-one-half year, $4.9 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to discover and develop novel anticancer agents using genetic material from marine microorganisms. This grant is part of a larger NCI initiative, the Chemistry-Biology Centers Program, which is designed to speed the drug development process.

The research focus of this grant is the discovery of new chemical compounds that show activity as anti-cancer agents which act through non-traditional mechanisms. The marine environment is well known to be a source of chemicals that are of interest in the development of new therapeutic agents. HBOI's patented compound, discodermolide, was found in a deep water sponge and is now undergoing advanced preclinical testing at Novartis as an anticancer agent. Microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi found in the marine environment have been studied to a far lesser extent but show great potential in the production of novel chemicals. Many marine microorganisms are difficult to grow and may contain biosynthetic genes that are not expressed under laboratory conditions: it is the genes of these marine microorganisms that will be studied during this research.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution's Division of Biomedical Marine Research (DBMR) has a highly diverse collection of marine microorganisms that focuses on the microbes found in association with deep water marine invertebrates such as sponges and cnidarians (sea fans). Drs. Amy Wright and Peter McCarthy of HBOI's Division of Biomedical Marine Research will use actinomycetes (filamentous bacteria) from the DBMR microbial culture collection as a source of DNA. This DNA will be inserted into a genetically engineered actinomycete using technology developed by Dr. David Sherman and his team at the University of Minnesota. The resulting clones will be grown in the DBMR microbiology lab and tested for anticancer properties at Novartis Inc.'s lab in Summit, NJ. Dr. Wright and her team will be responsible for the isolation and characterization of the new chemical compounds. Other sources of DNA that will be investigated include blue-green algae (being studied at Oregon State University) and marine fungi (being researched at the University of California-Santa Cruz).
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Inc. is one of the nation's leading nonprofit oceanographic research organizations dedicated to the exploration of the earth's oceans, estuaries and coastal regions for the benefit of mankind.

Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

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