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Drug potential from Great Barrier Reef sea sponges ready for commercial development

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11 January 2014
Expressions of interest are being invited to develop a class of chemical compounds produced by three species of Australian sea sponges, including one species from the Great Barrier Reef, as new drugs to treat conditions such as cancer and bone disease. The compounds, called the chondropsins, were discovered through a collaboration between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).
The Chondropsins are a type of chemical called macrolide lactams. In anti-cancer research at the NCI, the chondropsins showed an unprecedented profile of activity against their panel of 60 tumor cell types, including highly potent activity against osteosarcoma (bone cancer) cell lines. Further research showed that the drug potential of these compounds may come from their ability to target enzymes called V-ATPases that are responsible for regulating pH inside and outside cells.
Some forms of V-ATPase play a role in the development of cancer and bone diseases such as osteoporosis, and a wide range of other conditions such as Alzheimer's, viral infections, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders. However, AIMS project leader Libby Evans-Illidge says that previous attempts to develop other V-ATPase therapeutics have failed due to problems with toxicity.
"V-ATPases occur in most cells and are essential for normal healthy cellular processes. Previous leads were too toxic for use because they disrupted all V-ATPases indiscriminately. The exciting thing about the chondropsins is that they appear to selectively attack only certain types of V-ATPases, with low toxicity to others," said AIMS scientist Libby Evans-Illidge.
The sponge samples were collected and provided to the project by the AIMS Bioresources Library, under permits and benefit sharing agreements which ensure there will be an equitable monetary return to Australia if the chondropsins make it into the clinic.
Evans-Illidge explained that access and benefit sharing arrangements are an essential element of biodiscovery projects such as this.
"They ensure an equitable return to the biodiversity's country of origin, as required by the Convention on Biological Diversity, but equally importantly they provide assurance to the commercialising partner that they have legally certain rights to proceed with the project," she said
"By having these key benefit-sharing arrangements in place up-front, AIMS is able to facilitate access to its Bioresources Library, and offer Australia and the wider world a key resource for identifying new drugs to combat some of our most serious health issues, as well as a wide range of other products," said AIMS Research Director, Dr Jamie Oliver.
AIMS is now ready to pass this project onto another party with the capability to further explore and develop the therapeutic potential of these compounds. AIMS offers access to the full Intellectual Property portfolio, along with a sustainable supply of the compounds to support the next phase of research and development. While sponge supply may be sourced from the wild or aquaculture initially, if the chondropsins prove their worth and succeed through to the clinic, they will need to be produced synthetically.
For interviews please contact: Libby Evans–Illidge;, +61 (0) 407930865; or
Georgina Kenyon,, +61 (0)747534265.
Further information about the Expression of Interest process can be found here.