Dr. William Gerwick, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor
Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Scripps Institution of Oceanography

William Gerwick picture
William Gerwick, Ph.D.
(858) 534-0578

Human Resources

Lydia Heidt (formerly Napa)

Fund Management

Lisa Jandt Auvil

Research Summary

Dr. Gerwick's research focuses on exploring the unique natural products of marine algae and cyanobacteria for useful biomedical properties. These chemically prolific organisms are sources of numerous highly unusual metabolites, and the Gerwick group has been involved in their discovery and evaluation in the areas of cancer, inflammation, infectious disease including tropical diseases such as malaria, Chagas’ disease, leishmaniasis, neurochemical pathways, antiviral activity to SARS-COV-2 as well as agricultural uses. The Gerwick group has also examined the pathways of biosynthesis of many of the compounds they have discovered over the years, and pioneered the characterization of their origins at the molecular genetic and genomic levels.

Dr. Gerwick's group uses SCUBA to collect marine samples from around the world, such as Panama, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Guam, and then grows many of these life forms in the laboratory in La Jolla. Extracts of these organisms are tested for bioactivity, and the active compounds are isolated and structures defined using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and mass spectrometry (MS). In the course of this work, a number of new methods of structure analysis have been developed, such as the Deep Learning of NMR spectra called Small Molecule Accurate Recognition Technology (SMART), https://smart.ucsd.edu/classic). Highly interesting metabolites are developed through collaboration with academic and industrial researchers. We are now pursuing several of our lead molecules using synthetic medicinal chemistry and molecular modeling to produce even more active and selective analogs, especially in the area of malaria and other parasitic disease organisms

Academic Achievements

Education: B.S. in Biochemistry (1976) UC Davis; Ph.D. in Oceanography (1981) Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD; Postdoctoral Microbial Biosynthesis Natural Products (1981-82) UConn.

Awards and Honors: Awards and Honors: Associate Editor for the Journal of Natural Products Chemistry (2001-08); Member, NIH Study Section on Bioorganic and Natural Products Chemistry (2003-07); Fellow, American Society of Pharmacognosy (2008); UC San Diego Chancellor's Associates Faculty Excellence Award for Excellence in Science and Engineering (2011); American Society of Pharmacognosy Norman Farnsworth Research Achievement Award (2016); Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017); Paul Scheuer Award, Gordon Conference on Marine Natural Products (2018); Qilu Friendship Award, Jinan, Shandong Province, China (2019)

Leadership Experience: President of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (2002-03); Principle Investigator, Panama International Cooperative Biodiversity Group (2003-2015); Co-Chair Committee on Educational Policy SSPPS(2009-2017); Director, Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (2015-2020).

  • Pharmaceutical Chemistry (SSPPS 221)
  • Ecological and Medicinal Aspects of Natural Products (SSPPS 281 & SIO 296)
  • Pharmaceutical Biochemistry (SSPPS 223)
  • Scripps: Marine Natural Products Chemistry (SIO 264)
  • Seminar in Marine Chemical Biology (SIO 262)
  • Seminar on Drugs from the Sea (SIO 87)
Key Contributions
  • Revealed marine algae as rich sources of structurally novel eicosanoids related to human prostaglandins and leukotrienes.
  • Discovered and determined the structure and properties of several promising anticancer and anti-parasitic agents, such as curacin A, carmaphycin A and gallinamide A, from marine cyanobacteria.
  • Discovery of structurally novel neurotoxins from marine cyanobacteria and characterization of their mechanisms of action.
  • Characterized the biosynthesis of important pharmaceutical leads from marine cyanobacteria at the chemical, biochemical and genetic levels, including heterologous expression of cyanobacterial natural products.
  • Developed artificial intelligence methods for analyzing NMR spectra of natural products.
Potential Collaborative Programs
  • More than thirty years of experience in drug discovery from natural products, focusing on marine natural products.
  • Exploring and developing the genetic potential of marine organisms to yield new compounds, enzymes and genes for biotechnology.
  • Development and deployment of new methods for the automatic structure characterization of organic molecules.