Unlocking the potential of marine biodiscovery


The tremendous diversity of life in the ocean has proven to be a rich source of inspiration for drug discovery, with success rates for marine natural products up to 4 times higher than other naturally derived compounds. Yet the marine biodiscovery pipeline is characterized by chronic underfunding, bottlenecks and, ultimately, untapped potential.

For instance, a lack of taxonomic capacity means that, on average, 20 years pass between the discovery of new organisms and the formal publication of scientific names, a prerequisite to proceed with detecting and isolating promising bioactive metabolites. The need for “edge” research that can spur novel lines of discovery and lengthy high-risk drug discovery processes, are poorly matched with research grant cycles.

Here we propose five concrete pathways to broaden the biodiscovery pipeline and open the social and economic potential of the ocean genome for global benefit: (1) investing in fundamental research, even when the links to industry are not immediately apparent; (2) cultivating equitable collaborations between academia and industry that share both risks and benefits for these foundational research stages; (3) providing new opportunities for early-career researchers and under-represented groups to engage in high-risk research without risking their careers; (4) sharing data with global networks; and (5) protecting genetic diversity at its source through strong conservation efforts.

The treasures of the ocean have provided fundamental breakthroughs in human health and still remain under-utilised for human benefit, yet that potential may be lost if we allow the biodiscovery pipeline to become blocked in a search for quick-fix solutions.


Link to centre authors: Blasiak, Robert, Jouffray, Jean-Baptiste
Publication info: Sigwart, J.D., Blasiak, R., Jaspars, M., Jouffray, J-D., Tasdemir, D., 2021. Unlocking the potential of marine biodiscovery. Nat. Prod. Rep., 2021, Advance Article, https://doi.org/10.1039/D0NP00067A