by | Mar 15, 2021 | 0 comments

A COVID-19 Treatment from the Sea

Ever wonder where new drugs come from? It might surprise you that many come from the sea, including a potential new drug for treating COVID-19! 

Aplidium albicans is a species of sea squirt found in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain. Sea squirts are small sack-like marine invertebrates that live on rocks, large seashells, and other underwater surfaces. Like all sea squirts, A. albicans pulls water in through a large pore, absorbs its nutrients and oxygen, and then squirts it out it through another pore. But A. albicans differs from other sea squirts in a very special way: It produces plitidepsin, a compound that someday may be used to treat COVID-19. 

Aplidium albicans, found in the Balearic Islands. [Photo credit: PharmaMar]

Dr. Nevan Krogan (University of California San Diego), Dr. Kris M. White (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai), and Dr. Adolfo García-Sastre (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai) lead a team that aims to fight COVID-19 by repurposing existing drugs—including plitidepsin, a drug already approved as a cancer treatment by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. The team’s research found that plitidepsin is more than 27 times as effective at fighting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as the well-known drug remdesivir! 

So how does it work? Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 can’t reproduce on its own. Instead, it relies on its human host’s cellular machinery to create more viral particles. In a clever trick, plitidepsin inhibits a protein in human cells that the COVID-19 virus needs to reproduce, stopping the infection in its tracks. Because many viruses use this same human protein to reproduce, plitidepsin may be effective against many viral strains. In fact, promising early research suggests that plitidepsin is just as effective at treating the new more virulent strain of SARS-CoV-2 discovered in the UK as it is at treating the original strain. And because plitidepsin targets the slowly evolving human host rather than the fast-breeding virus, it may be harder for viruses to develop resistance to this new drug.  

The discovery of drugs like plitidepsin is just one reason that marine research and conservation are so important! When we take care of our oceans, we’re not only protecting millions of amazing species, but we’re saving potential solutions to human problems. 

Interested in ensuring our collection is available to researchers for the advancement of medicine? Support OGL here. 


Meet OGL’s new faces—and their new projects!

This month, OGL is welcoming a new postdoctoral fellow and two new co-op students! Did you know that some bacteria stab their competitors with poison darts? In her PhD research at UNC Chapel Hill, Dr. Lauren Speare showed how glowing symbionts use this strategy to...

New Tools for Teachers

Science teachers are awesome! Middle and high school teachers are on the front lines of science education, teaching a generation that not only can save our planet, but must. To do our small part to help these heroes, Ocean Genome Legacy and the Outreach Program at...

Mystery Fish Identified!

On a nighttime dive on a spectacular shallow reef in Cozumel, Mexico, underwater photographer Robert Stansfield spied something in the inky darkness he had never seen before: a tiny, transparent fish with bright markings, devilish eyes, and a gaping mouth...

Spooky Creatures at OGL!

It’s that time of year again, when werewolves, goblins, and vampires skulk in the shadows. This Halloween, we present some of the spookiest marine creatures lurking in the OGL collection! Barreleye (Macropinna microstoma) The barreleye must have a lot of role models,...