"From Harm to Charm": UNC Wilmington Biotechnology Program, MARBIONC, Receives Second Patent

Article ID: 544930

Released: 2-Oct-2008 8:45 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: University of North Carolina at Wilmington

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Newswise — MARBIONC, a biotechnology development program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington Center for Marine Science, has received a second patent for marine-derived substances that may be beneficial in the treatment of cystic fibrosis and asthma.

Marine researchers have developed the semi-synthetic derivatives from brevetoxin, a known pulmonary distress-causing agent that comes from Florida red tide. MARBIONC researchers have been working with several compounds from red tide that produce respiratory distress in humans and marine mammals. It has been found that chemical variants of these compounds have uses for treatment in COPD, cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary diseases.

Basic research on brevetoxins continues to take place at the UNCW Center for Marine Science, as research faculty identify the occurrence, concentration, harm and effects of the toxin on humans, fish and marine mammals. Most university-based research on these kinds of issues would stop there. Instead, through MARBIONC, UNCW researchers were able to move on to development of new compounds from the toxin.

"We kept looking, digging, understanding and discovering that not only did the red tide organism produce a number of toxins, but the it also produced an antidote that had never been identified," said Daniel G. Baden, a biochemist, MARBIONC principal and director of the UNCW Center for Marine Science. "With continued focus from MARBIONC, not only was the antidote discovered but real, usable, human therapeutics are coming out of this program.

"This is a phenomenal story of taking a known toxin and moving it 'from harm to charm,'" Baden added. "We're really shifting the scientific paradigm of how we look at marine-based toxins and the organisms that produce them."

Florida red tide consists of microscopic plant-like cells that produce a potent chemical toxin that kills fish, contaminates shell fish and creates severe respiratory irritation in people. Through continued study of the toxin, researchers found that, in addition to producing the toxin, red tide also produces some of its own antidotes. The first antidote discovered, a naturally-occurring compound called brevenal, was patented by MARBIONC in 2007. The lead compound in this second series, beta-naphthoyl brevetoxin or B-Nap for short, is a semi-synthetic chemical compound produced by synthetically modifying the toxin molecule to produce antitoxins.

Brevenal and B-Nap are both in the pre-investigative phase of drug research, Baden said. Although still years away from development of the compounds into approved and marketable medications, MARBIONC has reached the stage where it is seeking partnership with a drug company for continued testing, licensing and development of the two series of molecules that have been discovered.

MARBIONC is developing a portfolio of intellectual property that it will share through partnerships with for-profit companies, said Steven Fontana, a member of the MARBIONC senior management team. These unique arrangements will provide new marine-based compounds for potential human use and ensure that the university benefits financially from its research, which will help finance future projects.

"MARBIONC will continue to glean novel biologically active compounds, diagnostic tools and drug leads for applications in health, food and energy," Fontana said. "We're taking an innovative approach in the field of biotechnology by creating partnerships among academic, private business and other companies in the field of marine biotechnology."

More about MARBIONC

MARBIONC is a North Carolina economic development program established in 2004. Through its association with the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, MARBIONC, discovers, develops and markets new products and technologies from living organisms found in the sea. It identifies niche markets, assembles optimal teams and assembles the necessary infrastructure to bring marine biotechnology products and processes to market. For more information, visit http://www.uncw.edu/cmsr/marbionc.html


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