The Science Hour with Dr. William Fenical:  A Warm Up

Known as: The “Father of Marine Drug Discovery”

Based out of: San Diego, California (Scripps Institution of Oceanography)

What he does in 10 words or less: Explore the ocean for new sources of drugs benefiting humans

Why what he does is important to you:  Many of the drugs on the market today that help people live healthier lives were sourced from terrestrial (land) sources. However, the opportunity for discovering new land-sourced drugs is dwindling. Dr. William Fenical encourages us to look to the ocean as an incredible, and mostly untapped, biomedical resource capable of novel drug discoveries. These discoveries could help address some of our biggest health challenges from antibiotic resistance, to cancer, to the next pandemic.

Examples of the ocean’s opportunity:
•  Dr. Fenical’s chemical studies have resulted in the development of two cancer drugs currently in late Phase II human clinical trials.  Marizomib, a molecule produced by a marine bacterium is showing significant effects in the treatment of glioblastoma (brain cancer) and Plinibulin, a marine fungal derivative is showing good control of non-small cell lung cancer.

•  The Skin care company Estee Lauder uses a group of compounds discovered by Dr. Fenical from a Caribbean soft coral as an additive in several of their skin care products.  The additives reduce inflammation and allergenic effects.

Fun fact: Dr. Fenical has experienced all sorts of danger in his research expeditions, but one that stands out? Being attacked by pirates.

Key Terms:
Natural Products – a chemical compound or substance created by a living organism and found in nature

Biomedicine – a branch of medical science that uses anatomy and physiology to understand how the body “works”

Genetic composition – the complete set of genes that encodes all the characteristics of an organism

This event is for you if: You appreciate the ocean and are curious about how it can unlock the answers to global health challenges.

When: This talk took place on February 11th.  You can watch a recording here.


This Science Hour is generously sponsored by the 1911 Trust and the James and Gale Bacon Family Trust.