Exploring the oceans for cures to treat cancer and infectious diseases

The oceans offer enormous promise in the treatment of human disease.  As the need for new drugs increases, we need to turn to the oceans as our most expansive untapped natural resource.  Dr. Fenical and his work at the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine has already impacted cancer patients by delivering cures in at least one cancer (cutaneous marginal zone lymphoma) and current work promises to impact other cancers such as melanoma.  Our work in infectious diseases, specifically with MRSA infections (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has provided clear evidence that new marine antibiotics will be discovered to provide effective treatment for drug resistant infections.  Dr. Fenical's research provides clear societal impact, contributes to commercial development, and contributes promising academic discoveries.

  • They have made many discoveries resulting in four or more drugs in development for cancer and inflammatory diseases.  
  • They have created two local companies as spin-offs of our research and have collaborated with the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine for more than 10 years.  
  • They are training the next generation of scientists that will carry on implementing important research in exploring the world's oceans.

The oceans are our last great frontier for biomedical discovery. This program is unique on a world-wide level and growing as Dr. Fenical and his team demonstrate how prolific marine biomedical research can be. Dr. Fenical's vision is that we continue to expand on the number of discoveries from the ocean for 21st century medicine and that we continue to inspire and excite the next generation of researchers to continue to build upon our research to discover breakthrough treatments.

Dr. Fenical first became excited about the ocean at the age of 12 while on a family trip to Florida. Not long after, he and his family moved from their Chicago home to California. 

Determined to blend his love of the ocean with his career, Bill attained an Assistant Research Chemist position at Scripps in 1973. Since that time Bill has studied marine chemical ecology with particular interest in the role of chemical defense in thwarting predation on vulnerable marine organisms. It is from this research, and the resultant discovery of new chemical compounds, that Bill became interested in the medical potential of the oceans. 

Today his research focuses on the discovery of medicinally valuable compounds derived from marine microorganisms collected locally and in tropical locations, as well as extreme environments such as the deep-sea and arctic waters. 

In support of this research Bill has traveled the world performing field collections using SCUBA. He is one of the few to have successfully combined his hobby with his career. An avid fisherman, Bill vacations in Baja where he keeps a boat.

Bill has received many other awards for his research including the Paul Scheuer Award in marine natural products chemistry in 1996 and, most recently, the prestigious Guenther award from the American Chemical Society, the highest honor awarded in the field of natural products chemistry.

Bill has worked tirelessly as an educator and mentor, supervising 42 graduate students and 71 post-doctoral fellows. He is also an avid field researcher and diver, a fact made clear by his participation in 36 worldwide research expeditions, including 30 as chief scientist.

Finding of "anthracimycin" is the latest evidence that the oceans offer a vast resource for novel therapeutics

To Scripps researcher Bill Fenical, the oceans are a tantalizing trove of potential anti-cancer drugs. It's all about the chemistry, he says

Marine microbe with distinctive chemical structure collected by long-time Scripps research associate, expedition leader

William Fenical Named AAAS Fellow

Leading researcher in marine biomedicines honored by National Science Society