Stanford University chemist Paul Wender and his colleagues are working to improve remedies for cancer, HIV, and Alzheimer’s—and they’re betting that a drab, weedy marine invertebrate is the means to reaching that end.
They’ve focused on this seemingly unremarkable organism, called Bugula neritina, as a result of it cooperates with a bug in its gut to produce bryostatin, a molecule that can manipulate cellular activity in essential and controllable ways.
Faced with scant natural supplies, the Wender lab produced synthetic bryostatin in 2017. Now, they’re developing a suite of related synthetic analogs whereas continuing to discover the many uses of bryostatin for medical remedies, such as enhanced cancer immuno-remedy and eradication of HIV/AIDS.
In a paper featured on April 20 in Nature Communications, researchers from the Wender lab and the labs of Jerome Zack and Matthew Marsden at the University of California, Los Angeles describe the first artificial forms of bryostatin that are subtly different from the natural molecule—called “close-in analogs.” Tests of those 18 analogs on lab-grown human cancer cells showed that many could increase the effectiveness of cell therapies at a level similar to or better than bryostatin, opening the door for illness-specific optimization.
In second research, featured April 27 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, the same researchers partnered with Tae-Wook Chun at the National Institutes of Health to transform bryostatin into a prodrug that may pay out the active drug—and its medicinal impact—over time.