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Dr. William Gerwick

Marine Natural Products Drug Discovery and Biosynthesis

William H. Gerwick

William H. Gerwick, Ph.D.

Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Scripps Institution of Oceanography


(858) 534-0578

Gerwick Lab

Research Summary: Marine Natural Products Drug Discovery

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, 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. More recently, his group has also applied their chemical and genetic approaches to the goal of obtaining biofuels from cultured microalgae.

Dr. Gerwick's group uses SCUBA to collect marine samples from around the world, such as Panama, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea, and 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). Highly interesting metabolites are developed through collaboration with academic and industrial researchers, and biosynthetic pathways determined using gene cloning and other molecular biological methods.

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: 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).

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 (2009-2014); Acting Director, Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography).


  • Pharmacy: Contemporary Topics in Pharmacology (SSPPS 218A) (CourseMaster)
  • Pharmaceutical Chemistry (SSPPS 221)
  • Pharmaceutical Biochemistry (SSPPS 223)
  • Scripps: Marine Natural Products Chemistry (SIO 264)
  • Seminar in Marine Chemical Biology (SIO 262)

Key Contributions to Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • 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 agents, such as curacin A, and carmaphycin 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.

Selected Recent Publications (from >300 peer-reviewed articles)

Pereira et al. (2012). The Carmaphycins: New Proteasome Inhibitors Exhibiting an α,β-Epoxyketone Warhead from a Marine Cyanobacterium. ChemBioChem 13:810-817.

Trentacoste, E. M., et al. (2013) Metabolic engineering of lipid catabolism increases microalgal lipid accumulation without compromising growth. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:19748–19753.

Miller et al. (2014) "The marine cyanobacterial metabolite gallinamide A is a potent and selective inhibitor of human cathepsin L." J. Nat. Prod. 77: 92-99.

Kleigrewe, K., et al. (2015) "Combining Mass Spectrometric Metabolic Profiling with Genomic Analysis: A Powerful Approach for Discovering Natural Products from Cyanobacteria." J Nat Prod 78: 1671-1682.

Potential Collaborative Programs with the Pharmaceutical Industry

  • More than thirty years 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.