Natural neighbors

OSU, Biosortia link up to identify natural products for potential cancer treatments

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DUBLIN, Ohio—The Ohio State University (OSU) and BiosortiaPharmaceuticals have found that a great industry partner can be just down thestreet. The two Dublin, Ohio-based organizations have established an agreementto discover new biologically active natural products that demonstrate potentialanti-cancer activity.
Biosortia will be sponsoring the research project, andcompounds that result from the agreement will be tested primarily against humancolon cancer assays, though it may eventually expand to include other cancersubtypes. Ultimately, the partners hope to identify lead compounds that can belicensed through Biosortia's industry relationships to pharmaceutical companiesfor further development. The initial agreement was finalized by a collaborationbetween OSU's Technology Commercialization and Knowledge Transfer Office andOffice of Sponsored Programs.
The partnership stems primarily from a preexisting workrelationship between Dr. Guy Carter, chief scientific officer at Biosortia, andDr. Douglas Kinghorn, Jack L. Beal professor and chair of Medicinal Chemistryand Pharmacognosy at OSU. Kinghorn will serve as principal investigator anddirect the researchers from OSU in this project. His research includes theisolation, characterization and biological evaluation of natural products, andhe has worked on natural product compounds with potential anti-microbial,cancer chemotherapeutic, cancer chemopreventive, sweet-tasting andbitterness-blocking effects.
"Dr. Kinghorn is a world-leader in research of naturalproducts for drug discovery. The cooperation between the organizations createsa productive first step in building a long-term relationship," says Carter, whowill be working closely with Kinghorn.
The agreement will be very collaborative, Carter notes.Biosortia will provide "preprocessed materials from harvested microbialconsortia," while Kinghorn and his team will handle the testing--examining organic molecules from the provided cyanobacterial samples--and follow-upin terms of isolation of compounds. Kinghorn will also be working with Dr.Hee-byung Chai, who brings years of experience with cell-based biologicalscreening of natural products.
"The search for new lead compounds from natural sourcesshould pay big dividends," said Kinghorn in a press release.
Kinghorn has worked on natural products as the basis for lead compounds to treat cancer for more than 30 years, he says, and using natural products as anticancer agents "may provide a means of treating forms of cancer for which there are no available cancer chemotherapeutic options."
Natural products have had a presence in cancer chemotherapyfor more than 50 years, and lately they have been boasting an increasinglylarge role in cancer therapeutics.
According to a 2012 Journal of Natural Products paper, "Natural products as sources ofnew drugs over the 30 years from 1981 to 2010," compounds that are derived fromterrestrial microbes and plants are now standard agents in chemotherapy, withmore than 50 percent of cancer drugs based on natural products.
"Over the last five or six years, there has been a resurgence in thenumber of natural product-derived anticancer drugs approved by the U.S.FDA, and these have been from terrestrial microbes primarily, but alsofrom plants and even from marine organisms," says Kinghorn. "I thinkthat there will continue to be a steady stream of new additions tooncology therapy of agents of natural origin over the next few years." 
The trend is one that Carter expects to continue as well, despitewhat he notes as a "break in the chain" by pharma in the past decade or so asthe industry turned to synthetic chemistry.
"It's quite clear that in cancer, and in cancer andinfectious diseases in particular, that nature is still providing the mostuseful lead compounds to get to effective therapies. And we think that tappinginto microbial consortia with our unique capability of harvesting wholeconsortia and all the constituent microorganisms that are present actuallygives us access to a really broad range of these kind of potential antibioticsand anti-cancer agents that people haven't been able to test for," he says."It's the historical relevance of natural products in cancer chemotherapy andinfectious diseases, and then our ability to dig deeper into the naturalenvironment of these consortia, that makes us so positive about this source."
Kurt Dieck, president and CEO of Biosortia, says thisagreement with Ohio State is one of many natural product-focused partnershipsfor the company, with others in fields such as infectious diseases,neuroscience and anti-inflammatory.
"There's a lot of published information … that has shown howineffective the chemistry-based type of research that has been going on overthe last 10 or 15 years is. The effectiveness of that, as far as ultimatelyproducing a new drug, has dropped almost 50 percent, so pharma is looking fororganizations like ours to be collaborators with them to actually support someof these types of natural product opportunities," says Dieck.
Additionally, a recent McKinsey study noted that economicreturn on research and development spending has dropped from 13 to 15 percentin the 1990s to 4 to 9 percent in the past decade.
"I think that even though pharma has moved away in a certainsense from using natural products, upon reflection it seems fairly clear thatthey'd all like to have access to more natural products-based materials,particularly in the area of cancer and infectious diseases," Carter concludes.

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