New Drugs From Algae: Practical and Sensible

(DGIwire) – Algae have been used as ingredients in traditional medicine for centuries. But what role can these organisms play in today’s ultramodern pharmaceutical industry? The answer is: a potentially big one. That’s the message recently conveyed in the pages of The Medicine Maker by Andrew Dahl, President and CEO of ZIVO Bioscience, a biotech/agtech R&D company engaged in the commercialization of nutritional and medicinal products derived from proprietary algal strains.

“Algae can be cultivated in natural and artificial ponds, on wooden frames set in estuaries, in photobioreactors and fermentation tanks,” Dahl writes. “There’s plenty of opportunity to cultivate something that has never been grown or consumed by humans or animals and some of these could be very useful in the development of new pharmaceuticals.”

As Dahl explains, algae, much like many other natural sources, have been overlooked in current drug development initiatives, many of which focus on predictive modeling and computerized searches through vast digital libraries of synthetic compounds. Although these are proven and well-understood developmental tools, Dahl says it is unfortunate that the field of pharmacognosy, or the study of medicines derived from natural sources, has become somewhat uncommon.

Dahl writes that he has been involved in testing select algal strains and the results are promising—especially with respect to the strains’ ability to modulate immune and inflammatory responses and ability to modify cholesterol levels in mammals.

In Asia, especially Japan and China, research into algae-based drug candidates has been ramping up over the past two decades, notes Dahl. He also points out that fascinating work is also taking place inside the U.S., especially at sites where marine algae metabolites are being investigated for new cancer drugs.

As well as aiding drug discovery, algae can be modified to produce biopharmaceuticals, and in some cases, more efficiently and safely than other platforms can. For example, writes Dahl, research presented in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has highlighted how a genetically engineered strain of algae can be used to produce a complex human therapeutic drug. According to the researchers, the strain can produce a wide range of human therapeutic proteins more efficiently than bacteria or mammalian cells.

In the near future, Dahl foresees, popular drugs such as insulin, cytokines, monoclonal antibodies and subunit vaccines may be produced by algae at a lower cost and higher purity than what is possible using existing methods.

“The field of algae-based pharmaceuticals has so much to offer that it would not be surprising to see mainstream adoption in just a few short years,” Dahl adds.