Making A Mark

Valdosta probably isn’t the first name that comes to mind when people think of great institutions that have contributed to cancer research. Yet that could change, thanks to groundbreaking research by a Valdosta State University chemistry professor and a hardy band of undergrad pre-med students.

The group’s inventiveness has spawned several patent applications as well as a start-up company that’s poised to gain the attention of pharmaceutical giants.

Tom Manning and his students – working in conjunction with other labs around the country – have developed a new method for producing obscure ocean organisms typically found in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and used in treating cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. Molecules that come from these organisms known as byrostatin (made from a filter feeder called Bugula neritina), cost millions of dollars per gram to produce. Manning’s method promises to cut costs dramatically and make new drugs available to patients who now can’t afford them.

“We went back into the same ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico and we found other organisms that were more plentiful that produced the same drug,” Manning explains. “We looked at the chemistry of all these things in a marine environment and found the bacteria that lives in these organisms that actually make these drugs. So what we have done is try to come up with cheaper ways to actually grow that bacteria without using the organisms at all.”

The research has moved out of the lab and resulted in the creation of Marine Natural Products – nicknamed Cancer Drugs from the Sea. The company expects to begin selling its product to major pharmaceutical companies in the coming months, while securing federal grants to fund additional research.

A 13-year veteran at Valdosta State, Manning has seen other commercial ventures grow out of his research. A few years ago, a company founded to commercialize a method for ozone and water treatment became the first from a state university in Georgia to win a federal Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) contract, which was presented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. – Randy Southerland

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