Protect ocean areas with robotics


With the aging world population and the increasing burden of chronic diseases, there is a greater dependence on the health care system (especially the biopharmaceutical industry) to achieve and maintain a high quality of life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the burden of human disease has been increasing rapidly for decades, with this trend mainly driven by population growth and environmental degradation.


Marine bioprospecting is the search for new compounds from natural sources in the marine environment. These activities have increased sharply in recent years, probably in part due to the continued technological advancements that allow for further oceanic exploration, recognition of the rich generic diversity in the marine biome, as well as industry pressure to produce given various blockbuster- lose medicines. Today, approximately 18,000 natural products have been reported from marine organisms belonging to approximately 4,800 named species. The number of natural products from marine species is growing at 4% per year. The increase in the number of discoveries is largely due to technological advances in ocean exploration and the genetic diversity it contains. Advances in deep ocean observation and sampling technologies, such as submarines and remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), have previously opened up unexplored areas for scientific research. Since 1999, the number of patents for marine species genetic material has increased by 12% per year. Marine species are about twice as likely to yield at least one gene in a patent as their terrestrial counterparts. Bioprospecting usually requires the collection of a very limited amount of biomass for the first discovery. While further collections may be needed after a promising discovery, bioprospection generally does not pose threats to biodiversity comparable to the large biomass removals involved in harvesting resources for food or mineral exploitation.


Biopharmaceuticals are one of the most impressive achievements in modern science. Many biopharmaceuticals offer high efficacy and few side effects. And there is much more to come: radically new concepts are coming onto the market and progress continues to come at a rapid pace. Natural compounds’ success in drug discovery is unparalleled: for antimicrobial and anti-cancer therapies, for example, more than 70% of the new chemical entities introduced in the period 1981-2002 came from natural products. The U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) has estimated that 1% of samples from lab-tested marine animals show anti-tumor potential (which compares favorably with only 0.01% of samples of terrestrial origin). Advances in computing, automation and imaging technology have made it possible in recent decades to screen 100,000 – 1,000,000 small molecules per day against a specific biological target or cellular assay, compared to 10 – 100 seconds of compounds tested on animals many months earlier. A growing awareness of the limitations of historically valuable approaches and breakthroughs in robotics technologies, such as those used in separation and structure determination, have made screening mixtures of structurally complex natural product molecules easier and have the potential role of natural chemical diversity in the drug discovery process



Australia is one of only 17 megadiverse countries in the world and is known for the uniqueness of its biota. Australia has several features that are attractive to investors and researchers in the field of natural products. This includes, not least, access to a diverse and unique biota. More generally, Australia’s characteristics conducive to research and commercial activities include the robust legal system and the stable democratic government system, the stable and resilient economy, the transparent and efficient regulation, the comprehensive protection of intellectual property and the high scientific and technological capacity. Australia has remained relatively isolated over time compared to most countries. Consequently, Australia has a high proportion of endemic species – that is, species not naturally occurring elsewhere. For example, in the case of mammals, approximately 83% are endemic to Australia. Australia’s unique marine environment contains the world’s largest areas and the greatest diversity of tropical and temperate seagrass and mangrove species; some of the largest parts of coral reefs; exceptional levels of biodiversity for a wide range of marine invertebrates; and it is estimated that about 80% of southern marine species are found nowhere else in the world. With only 0.3% of the world’s population, Australia contributes 2.5% of global medical research and 2.9% of global scientific publications (Invest Australia, 2007, p. 6). In 2005, Australia ranked eighth in the OECD in terms of researchers’ share of the total workforce. This is above the OECD average. Per capita, Australia has a research output that is twice the OECD average. In the field of biotechnology research, Australia has several special research institutes for biotechnology. The Australian biotechnology industry is growing steadily, with activities in biotechnology areas including biomedical medicine, agricultural biotechnology, industrial biotechnology and environmental biotechnology. The Australian government is a strong supporter of the domestic pharmaceutical industry and has been very supportive in implementing initiatives to grow this sector. By any measure, the Australian government’s support for research and development in the biopharmaceutical industry appears to remain strong.


Today, biopharmaceuticals generate global sales of $ 163 billion, representing approximately 20 percent of the pharmaceutical market. It is by far the fastest growing part of the industry: the current annual growth rate of biopharma of more than 8 percent is double that of conventional pharmaceuticals, and growth is expected to continue at that rate in the near future. Marine bioprospecting has the potential to further stimulate these trends. The marine biome remains untouched and not yet explored, so it is perfectly ready to boost both the topline and the bottomline for multiple stakeholders in the biopharmaceutical value chain. Investing in biotech R&D has yielded better returns than the average in the pharmaceutical industry. The current biological development pipeline supports prospects for continued healthy growth. The number of biotech patents applied for has increased by 25 percent annually since 1995. There are currently more than 1,500 biomolecules undergoing clinical trials, and the success rate for biologics has so far been more than double that of small molecule products, with 13 percent of biopharma products entering the Phase I pilot phase continuing. So far, sampling of marine products has mainly taken place in easily accessible coastal waters. As a result, 97% of natural products of marine origin come from eukaryotic sources (organisms with complex cells), with only sponges making up 38% of the products. However, most of the Earth’s metabolic diversity resides in prokaryotic organisms (single-celled organisms such as bacteria) and more than 99% of the ocean’s microbial community remains to be explored, so it goes without saying that many more genetic sequences valuable for products have yet to be discovered. There is particular interest in marine species living in extreme environments, such as hydrothermal vents and undersea mountains (‘Extremophiles’). At the end of 2007, only 10 connections had been reported from deep ocean and ocean trough environments, and a further seven were reported in 2010. Less than 10 natural marine products from hot-vent bacteria have been reported to date. In addition, if we break down the different ecosystems of our seas and oceans and compare the chemical dynamics, coral reefs have particularly impressive potential. The corals we see actually consist of colonies that build and thrive in a nutrient-poor environment. Although coral reefs cover only 0.1% of the world’s ocean surface, they are one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth, with ~ 25% of all marine species. The focus on the coral reef ecosystem as a target for medicinal purposes is not a new concept. Coral reefs were a well-known source of medicine as early as the 14th century. A practice at the time was the use of a fish gallbladder to treat toxic stings from marine organisms. Today, coral reefs have already made a name for themselves in the pharmaceutical industry as one of the sources of biochemical compounds for new medicines, and the possibilities are endless. The chances of moving forward are significant.


2.3.1 Aplidin

One of the early marine biochemical compounds is Didemnin, a compound isolated for the treatment of certain cancers. This compound was obtained from the tunicate Trididemnum solidum. Unfortunately, Didemin did not survive later stages of her clinical studies. However, after a series of further explorations, it was discovered that a relative of the former species had similar traits. The tunicate Aplidium albicans has the compound Aplidin® which has a similar structure to Didemnin but much less toxic. Aplidin is an anti-tumor, antiviral, and immunosuppressant drug that has been shown to be effective in pancreatic, stomach, bladder, and prostate cancers. After undergoing a series of clinical tests, Aplidin was classified as an orphan drug that specifically treats multiple myeloma and acute lymphoblastic leukemia. In the United States alone, there are more than 45,000 people with multiple myeloma and an estimated 15,000 new cases in the United States. every year.

2.3.2 Yondelis

Yondelis® was developed by the PharmaMar Pharmaceutical Company and was launched in 2003. This compound is now sold by Zeltia and Johnson and Johnson. Yondelis contains the active substance Trabectedin. Trabectedin is derived from coral reefs. Specifically from the filter feeding bags of the small and immobile, plant-like invertebrate called sea sheath. Extracts of this reef-associated species have been shown to contain treatment for soft tissue sarcoma and ovarian neoplasm sarcoma. Yondelis was developed as a result of the National Cancer Institute Screening Program for marine plants and animals. Sea jellyfish were collected from reefs of the West Indies and studied in the laboratory of the University of Illinois. It was then discovered that the anti-cancer biosynthetic was embedded in the symbiotic microorganism in the sea sheath. Yondelis is produced semi-synthetically, after the sea sheath extracts have undergone a patented chemical process. This process is less intrusive and less demanding on the natural marine biome. Although only used for rare medical conditions such as sarcoma, Yondelis can still add great value to the lives of patients and other stakeholders. They are increasingly using Yondelis in their prescribing workflow for sarcomas, and patients are increasingly sensitive to platinum-containing medicines, and Yondelis is one of the few alternative cancer medicines.

2.3.3 Pro Osteon

There are many indications for a bone graft implant (eg fusion of the spine, joints in arms and legs, fractures or holes in the bones caused by trauma or infection, dental surgery). In a typical bone grafting procedure, a synthetic material is formed by the surgeon to fit into the affected area of ​​the bone, while using pins or screws to hold it in place. This material builds a support structure where bone cells can interlace, regenerate and heal. Pro Osteon Implant 500 has a porous microstructure where new tissues and blood cells can grow, stimulating growth and connecting broken bones. Generally called “Bone Void Filler” and approved by the FDA in 1992, Pro Osteon Implant 500 has been clinically proven to be safe, strong, and cost effective. This material is sterile and therefore minimizes side effects from the patient’s immune system that rejects the implant. The effectiveness of Pro Osteon Implant 500 lies in the source. It uses sea corals that have the same porous interconnected structure of a typical bone graft, mimicking the internal structure of a human bone. After undergoing a proprietary chemical process, it converts the coral into hydroxyapatite, a mineral and the main structural element of a human bone. At this stage, the implant material is now also osteoconductive, making it easier for bone cells to weave into the porous structure. After the procedure and the healing process have started, the Pro Osteon implant is eventually covered and replaced with bones that make the recovered part as strong as before. Pro Osteon has great proven efficacy and a safe side effect profile. The company that produces this product expects revenues of at least $ 3 billion by 2017. In addition, Pro Osteon production is not entirely dependent on agriculture and the extraction of corals from their natural environment. Special techniques have been developed, in which only a small part of the coral has to be extracted, while the balance is artificially cultivated in the laboratory, thereby promoting the durability and stability of the marine biome.



Despite the fact that marine bioprospection has relatively little impact and practice does not present the sustainability risk of various terrestrial techniques, conservationists and the public still have concerns. First, very little is known about the conservation status of many species used as sources of marine genetic resources. Furthermore, many species occur in vulnerable and vulnerable ecosystems. Many are also concerned about what we do not currently know in this relatively young industry. For example, the effect of removal of marine genetic resources on ecosystems is poorly understood.


Investing in marine biotechnology is not without risk. Sea sampling costs a minimum of US $ 30,000 per day or US $ 1 million for a month. It typically takes 15 years in total and an investment of up to US $ 1 billion to move from research to commercial product, as many products fail to deliver on early promises. As a result, the field is dominated by relatively few countries. Patent applications related to marine genetic resources (MGR) come from only 31 countries. Ninety percent of these patents come from 10 countries (US, Germany, Japan, France, UK, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland and Norway), 70% of which come from the US, Germany and Japan. Despite the high investments to be made in R&D, biotechnology is a lucrative and important industry.


The potential of marine bioprospection has become the subject of an international policy debate (particularly for areas outside national jurisdiction). A central question is whether the potential benefits of marine bioprospection should be shared by the entire international community or only by the states or individual companies with the capacity to exploit them. Several groups are considering this to configure the most sensible set of policies to balance the need to promote innovation and technological / biopharmaceutical progress, and to ensure that all stakeholders in the value chain are appropriately compensated, together with the need to ensure the longevity of these natural marine habitats. Individual nation states are increasingly adopting policies that determine how protected marine habitats in their jurisdiction can be used for bioprospecting and other scientific and commercial purposes.


Bioprospecting and biopharmaceutical discovery in general are operational and technological challenges. Reliably reproducing large molecules on an industrial scale requires production capabilities of a previously unknown sophistication. Consider this: An aspirin molecule consists of 21 atoms. A biopharmaceutical molecule can contain between 2,000 and 25,000 atoms (Exhibit 1). The “machines” that produce recombinant therapeutics are genetically modified live cells that must be frozen for storage, thawed without damage, and thrive in the unusual environment of a reaction vessel. The necessary refinement costs a lot of money. Large-scale biotech production facilities require $ 200 million to $ 500 million or more to build, compared to comparable small-scale facilities that cost only $ 30 million to $ 100 million, and take four to five years to build. As the number of products increases and new process technologies such as continuous production are introduced, the complexity of biopharmaceutical operations and the biopharmaceutical supply chain will increase.



First, activities at sea in support of biotechnology should be distinguished from laboratory processes. Commercial expeditions purely to collect marine genetic resources are rare or absent. Sampling is typically performed on scientific research cruises or using downtime on ROVs used in the offshore oil industry. Offshore research vessels are typically owned by national research bodies (eg China, UK, US, Brazil, Germany, Japan, France, Russia) or commercial activities, especially in the offshore oil and gas sector. With advances in ROVs, less and less direct human disturbance to the marine biome is required. Using ROV technology allows for minimally invasive tactics that still provide effective research / discovery / development capabilities while maintaining balance in the most vulnerable habitats. Investing and using ROV technology is also safer for all parties involved. As the scientific community continues to explore more dangerous and less researched marine habitats, the risk to health and human safety is increasing. ROVs drastically reduce this risk, while research and commercial societies can explore real border regions. Liquid Robotics, for example, is a company-backed company that specializes in this field with their marquee, the Wave Glider. The Wave Glider is an autonomous, environmentally friendly ocean platform for collecting and transmitting information about the ocean remotely. Wave Gliders collect data about temperature, wind, humidity, gusts, water temperature, water color and water composition. They can also take photos. These robots collect a lot of observation data on climate change, ocean acidification, fisheries management, hurricane and tsunami warnings and exploration – but in a green way. This type of technology is specifically applied to marine bioprospection to further stimulate innovation and efficiency in this space.


Griffith University (an Australian university based in the state of Queensland) / AstraZeneca Partnership represents a multi-year investment of 100 AUD by AstraZeneca, involves the screening of flora and fauna extracts by Griffith University Eskitis Institute to identify bioactive molecules as potential identifying leads for pharmaceutical discovery and development of new drugs. Since the start of the partnership, more than 45,000 samples of regional biota have been collected, both at sea and on land. Collections are from various jurisdictions within Australia. This partnership should also serve as a well-founded example to help inform future initiatives that match the different needs to ensure effective and safe marine bioprospection. This partnership has demonstrated that over time, bioprospecting partnerships can deliver consistent benefits to countries of origin and to the conservation of biodiversity. The partnership agreement and the resulting investment in Queensland has resulted in a significant technology transfer. As part of the collaboration, AstraZeneca provides funding to Griffith University to participate in their bio-discovery and commercialization efforts. Griffith University, in turn, collaborates with domestic and foreign collection institutions to conduct biota collections, create sample extracts, and then direct these samples through targets through high throughput (HTS) against targets of therapeutic interest. AZ are provided. Active compounds are then identified and isolated at Griffith University via bioassay guided fractionation and structures are elucidated by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Benefits for the range of employees in the partnership: Astra Zeneca, Griffith University, the Queensland Herbarium, the Queensland Museum and companies and institutions in China, India, Papua New Guinea and Tasmania. At the same time, wider benefits have been or may continue to emerge for the state of Queensland, the Australian research community, the Australian public and the international community. Benefits realized for Australia include monetary benefits such as sample fees (or to cover the cost of an agreed work plan) and royalties. Non-monetary benefits for Australia included the provision of vehicles, equipment, technology, training, the construction of a state-of-the-art natural product discovery unit and a greater understanding of biodiversity. Benefits for AZ include access to a massive pipeline of potential blockbuster drugs that can benefit thousands (if not millions) of patients. In addition, new information and data obtained from the partnerships aims to inform more conservation and spatial planning and management policies across the region. Many best practices for comparable future partnerships can be drawn up from the AZ / Griffith Partnership.


Science now has an unprecedented opportunity to advance humanity by using robotics to improve all of us.

Source by Todd Kleperis