Andrew Porterfield has a master’s degree in biotechnology management from the University of Maryland and has worked as a marketing communications consultant for many biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms.
Since the earth is over 70 percent ocean, one would think that the diversity of marine life would lead to a majority of treatments from the deep. But it hasn’t until very recently. Most drugs are still derived from sources on dry land.
One reason for this terrestrial bias has been that marine organisms are more challenging to find. But treatments (or potential treatments) have arisen from marine life found along coastlines, while advances in underwater technology (Scuba equipment, for example), have led to even more discoveries.
But the oceans may prove to be a treasure trove of new treatments. Many marine organisms are sessile, attached to either the ocean bottom or features of the coastline, and rely on chemical interaction for both catching prey and fending off predators. These chemicals have become new sources of drugs for a range of diseases as wide as the sea is diverse. We still have not fathomed the degree of diversity in the oceans, but marine pharmacology is already yielding results. As of 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved seven drugs derived from marine chemicals and at least another dozen are in development.