Large-scale production of pharmaceuticals by marine sponges: sea, cell, or synthesis?

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2005 Apr 20;90(2):201-22. doi: 10.1002/bit.20404.


Marine sponges are known to produce an overwhelming array of secondary metabolites with pharmaceutical potential. The technical and economical potential of using marine sponges for large-scale production of these compounds was assessed for two cases: the anticancer molecule halichondrin B from a Lissodendoryx sp., and avarol from Dysidea avara for its antipsoriasis activity. An economic and technical analysis was done for three potential production methods: mariculture, ex situ culture (in tanks), and cell culture. We concluded that avarol produced by mariculture or ex situ culture could become a viable alternative to currently used pharmaceuticals for the treatment of psoriasis. Production of halichondrin B from sponge biomass was found to not be a feasible process, mainly due to the extremely low concentration of the compound in the sponge. Technical feasibility was also analyzed for five alternatives: chemical synthesis, wild harvest, primmorph culture, genetic modification and semi-synthesis. It was concluded that the latter two approaches could prove to be valuable methods for the production of pharmaceuticals, based on chemical structures of secondary metabolites present in trace amounts in marine sponges.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ethers, Cyclic / metabolism*
  • Macrolides
  • Marine Biology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Models, Economic
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Porifera / metabolism*
  • Sesquiterpenes / metabolism*


  • Ethers, Cyclic
  • Macrolides
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • halichondrin B
  • avarol