Many years ago, before the existence of the present technology that we rely on currently, before plants were cultivated for food, animals kept as livestock, the basic human need to relieve pain and prolong life prompted man into the search for medicine. No one knows exactly what means the earlier man had used to cure diseases, but they probably sought cures in minerals, plants and animal surrounding them; both terrestrial and aquatic life. A lot has changed since then, but reliance on plants for treatment has even increased. Researchers have also agreed that the most successful source of ideas for new drugs is natural products from plants and other organisms. It has been established that these ideas have desirable properties in lab tests, and they are commonly known as Lead compounds.
Leading researchers seek ideas for new drugs not only in terrestrial plants and organisms, but in any part of nature that they gain valuable clues. This entails searching the organisms in such areas that have been left unexplored, commonly known as last unexplored frontier: the sea water that blankets almost past half of the earth.
Marine animals are often characterized with intraspecific competition, daily struggle for their means of survival. As for plants, researchers have found out potential value of this chemicals warfare to kill bacteria and cancer cells. Scientists identified the first ocean organism marine; derived cancer drug, now known as Cytosar; U (Faulkner, 2004, p 138) decades ago. This chemical was found to be appropriate in treating Leukemia and Lymphoma, in a Caribbean Sea sponge. In recent years, scientists have discovered a lot of similar oceans derived chemicals that appear to be powerful cancer cells killer. An outstanding example is yon delis; an experimental cancer drug isolated from marine organism called Ecteinascidia Turbinata (Kerr, 1999, p 171).
Other several drugs, are promising drugs from sea creatures known as turnicates; famously known as sea squirts. Turnicates are a group of marine organisms attached to docks, rocks, or under the undersides of boats. To someone untrained eyes, they are similar to small colorful blobs (Faulkner, 2004, p 146). In the real sense, turnicates are closely related to vertebrates like man than most of the invertebrates. Certain turnicates found in the coral reefs in the West, became the source of experimental cancer drugs known as ecteinascidin. Ken Rinehart, chemist; who was then at the university of Illinois at Urban – Champaign discovered these natural substances (Mestel, 1999, p79). A pharmaceutical company now based in Spain holds the license for ecteinascidin, and its calling it Yondelis. Furthermore, researchers have found out that Yondelis can kill cancer cells, and it has also been revealed that the drug is fit for use by man. The ongoing research has also found out that this drug is useful in treating soft tissue sarcomas, characterized by tumors’ of the muscles, tendons, and supportive tissue. As a way of survival, most ocean animals depend on chemistry, to ward off hungry predators or even to prey on others. A good example of such animal is cone snail. A poison produced by the coin snail C. geographus has been found out to be an extremely powerful new pain drug (K.S Matz). Lethal chemical brews are the weaponry of choice for this sedentary creature living in reefs. They are usually found in Australia, Indonesia and Philippines. They have an extremely powerful poison, containing dozens of nerve toxins. This venom shocks its prey, same like the famous electric eel or sea anemones. They paralyze its predators or prey. A leading pharmacologist, Baldomero Ollivera of the university of Utah in salt lake, a native of Philippines whose boyhood fascination with cone snails matured into a career studying snails (Mestel, 1999,p87) discovered a snail poison that became a pain killer. The experiment proved that the pain killer could be strong than morphine. From the venom, of the snail, a drug known as Prialt was developed. The drug is known to jam up the nerve transmission in the spinal cord and prevent certain pain signal from reaching the brain (Kerr, 1999,p91). Its believe that there are more than 500 species of this venom snails and more research on them could generate more discoveries. The moulds also found by the waters are known to produce antibiotic penicillin. In many cases, scientists have found ways to produce large quantities of ocean derived chemicals from the lab. It has been found that the best source of pharmacologically active compounds is bacteria, cynobacteria, fungi, sponges, soft corals, gorgonians, sea hares, tunicates and bryozoans.
Product branch includes more candidates from the ocean than from the land(Mestel 1999).The NCI is conducting phase 1, phase 2, and phase 3 trials on some exciting compounds such as Bryostatin, (A compound isolated from bryozoans Bugula neritina). This organism attach itself to the bottom of the boat of California, and its mainly used to cure melanoma, non –Hodgkin lymphoma and renal cancer. (Faulkner, 2004, p113) Other compounds with medicinal values include:
Dolostatin 10- This is a linear peptide derivative isolated from the sea hare.
Dolabella auricularia – found in Indian Ocean use in treatment of breast cancer and liver cancer, solid tumors and leukemia (Rayl, “oceans” 1999).
AE941- A shark cartilage preparation, it is used in treatment of various tumors (Rayl, “oceans” 1999).
Searching nature treasure for potential medicines was the beginning of continuous research, having already discovered the natural tap of a certain drug; scientists go a step further to find out how they can make them scratch in the laboratory. It is necessary so as to save the lives of such living organism and reduce time, energy and resources needed to tap the drug from its environment, synthesizing the drugs in the lab makes it even possible to produce more units of drugs, plenty to use and more available. Scientists are also known to develop a relatively new technique called combinational genetics to make things that do not actually exist in nature. Researchers have found out ways to stop the genetic instructions for the entire metabolic pathways from specific instructions, and then put back. This method can develop new and different natural products.
The private sector has been so reluctant to invest their resources into pharmaceutical research related to oceanic world. It appears, not too surprisingly, to be dollars and cents issue as much as anything (Rayl, “oceans 1999). The major reason for their reluctance to invest in marine development is that the research takes longer, and it will slow down their quest to produce new compounds.
Another reason is the issue of Rio Conventional issue. This partakes the issue of cross border discovery where a private organization is concerned. If a private research company discovers something in another country, will a research team for the organization be allowed to develop it? Some states are known to control all researches in their waters, which mean that no other researcher has a chance to explore that waters or benefit with anything if it comes to research.
Each and every day, there is increasing demand of marine drugs for the pharmaceutical industry, to obtain a gram of ET743, nearly a ton of turnicate is required. Harvesting tones and tones of turnicate require a lot of time, energy and resources. This is not economically feasible or biologically healthy. The two main options for overcoming this problem are through synthesis and aquaculture: Synthesis allows the pharmaceutical company to manage all aspects of production. This is an excellent solution for simple compounds, but it becomes extremely difficult when dealing with other marine products which are complex and require several steps synthesis of long proportions so as to break down the complex bio active marine products.
Oceans of the world are a storehouse of so many undiscovered new drugs and new products of so many types including enzymes and gene products. Despite the knowledge of this, mankind has continued to willingly pollute the oceans the coral reef threatening that ecosystem. Man should realize that oceans are one of the lasts significant natural resource, and for future survival on planet earth, they should stop the degradation of such resources directly. This translates into large, irreversible biodiversity losses.