Guan Huashi, a 79-year-old researcher of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, is leading his research team to look for new drugs from the ocean. GV-971, a new Alzheimer’s drug extracted from brown algae, completed its phase three clinical trial in July.
Alzheimer’s is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory, thinking skills, and the ability to carry out simple tasks. The disease affects about 48 million people worldwide and the number is expected to increase with the aging population. There is no effective cure.
The drug is targeted at patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s. Independent animal experiments also showed that it can regulate the immune system, reduce neuroinflammation and improve cognition.
Natural products produced by marine organisms sometimes have pharmacological activity that can be of therapeutic benefit in treating diseases such as cancer, according to Lyu Zhihua, a member of Guan’s team and vice dean of the School of Medicine and Pharmacy at the Ocean University of China.
There are a dozen marine-derived drugs commercially available in the market and many more are in clinical trials. The industry has great potential. Last year, Guan and his colleagues started establishing marine organism sample database and marine drug information database. A $733 million fund has been set up to invest in developing new marine drugs.
Approaches are available to overcome the hurdles. In addition to advances in sampling technologies and synthetic medicine, researchers with the Marine Biomedical Research Institute of Qingdao have sought help from supercomputing. Based on supercomputing resources in the cities of Qingdao, Jinan, and Wuxi, researchers match and analyze the three-dimensional structures of 30,000 marine natural products with molecular targets of known drugs.
Scientists with Guan’s team plan to take three to four new marine drugs into clinical trials in no more than five years, such as BG136 for the treatment of colon cancer. Qingdao is famous for its marine science and technology. The city is home to 70 percent of China’s marine experts, the deep-sea manned submersible Jiaolong and research vessel Kexue.