Palau’s Marine Resources Being Explored For Cancer Cure

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Palau’s Marine Resources Being Explored For Cancer Cure National Cancer Institute working with coral reef center to test samples

By Bernadette H. Carreon

KOROR, Palau (Marianas Business Journal, March 25, 2014 ) – Palau's rich marine resources are being scoured for what could be a drug to cure cancer.

David Newman, who heads the Natural Products branch at the National Cancer Institute, said the potential for an anti-cancer drug to be found in Palau's waters, though it may take a long time, is possible.

He said three cancer drugs are in clinical use now from marine-sourced materials: Yondelis from a Caribbean tunicate; Halaven, a synthetic version of halichondrin B from a sponge in Japan; and Adcetris, which is a "smart bomb" that has a modified compound known to come from a bacterial product that a nudibranch absorbs as a protective compound.

"Each of these took well over 20 years from the initial discovery of the parent compound to the drug that is now in use. In addition, there is one pain medication from a cone snail toxin that took over 15 years," Newman said.

He added that roughly 26,000 pure chemical compounds have been identified worldwide from all marine collections made by scientists over the last 40 years.

The National Cancer Institute is working with Palau's Coral Reef Research Foundation, and their collections are performed under an agreement with the government of Palau based upon the National Cancer Institute's Letter of Collection.

The source country can benefit from profit sharing, development of the drug and suitable recompense in that the organization must use raw materials from the source country.

"What Palau has gained to date is that they have probably the best described marine fauna in the world as a result of the materials that CRRF has provided to Palau, and if you look at the income that CRRF has put into the Palauan economy [...] [The research in Palau] has provided an immense amount of information and training as well to Palauans," Newman said.

Just one assay that the National Cancer Institute runs routinely on all samples costs $500 per extract by the time everything is included.

Newman said if the National Cancer Institute identifies a potential lead chemical compound, it will patent and license it to an organization for further development. Newman said that none of the materials that have been collected in Palauan waters to date has reached the patent stage with the institute, nor have any of the materials shown significant activity in other laboratory investigations.

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