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December 16, 2020

The new superhero; Cancer Fighting Sea Sponges


Three species of Australian sea sponges are producing chemical compounds that can be used in a new drug to treat cancer and bone disease. The compounds, called chondropsins, were discovered through collaboration between the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the US National Cancer Institute (NCI).

These compounds are a type of chemical called macrolide lactams and are produced by three types of Australian Sea Sponges, including one species from the Great Barrier Reef.

sea sponge that produces Chondropsins

chondropsinsIn the NCI’s cancer research these chondropsins showed an extraordinary profile of activity against their panel of 60 tumor cells, including highly potent activity against osteosarcoma (bone cancer) cell lines.  From further research it was found 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 V-ATPases play a major role in the development of bone disease and some forms of cancer plus a range of other conditions including Alzheimer’s, viral infections, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.

Libby Evans-Illidge from AIMS explains that other V-ATPase therapeutics has 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,” explains AIMS scientist Libby Evans-Illidge.

Under permits and other sharing  agreements with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, sponge samples were collected and provided to the US National Cancer Institute to ensure there is a reasonable monetary return to Australia if the chondropsins make it into the clinic.

This kind of collaboration is forefront in the research behind solving some of our most serious health issues. AIMS is now ready to open up the project to other research parties who may have an expression of interest to further explore and develop the therapeutic potential of these compounds. They have promised to offer full access to their intellectual property portfolio, along with a sustainable supply of the compounds to support the next phase of research and development.

It is also worth noting that if the chondropsins in the sponges are found to be useful they will begin to be synthetically produced.


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