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Dr. William Gerwick

Marine Natural Products Drug Discovery and Biosynthesis

William H. Gerwick

William H. Gerwick, Ph.D.

Distinguished Professor
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.

Dr. Gerwick's group uses SCUBA to collect marine samples from around the world, such as Panama, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and Guam 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. 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); ); American Society of Pharmacognosy Norman Farnsworth Research Achievement Award (2016); Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017).

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-current).


  • Pharmacy: Contemporary Topics in Pharmacology (SSPPS 218A) (CourseMaster)
  • 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)

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 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.

Selected Recent Publications (from >360 peer-reviewed articles)

Kinnel RB, et al. (2017) A Maldiisotopic Approach to Discover Natural Products: Cryptomaldamide, a Hybrid Tripeptide from the Marine Cyanobacterium Moorea producens." J. Nat. Products (5)1514-1521.

Gerwick, William H. (2017) "The Face of a Molecule." Journal of Natural Products 80, 2583-2588.

Pye, Cameron R., et al (2017) "Retrospective analysis of natural products provides insights for future discovery trends." PNAS of the United States of America (114) 5601-5606.

Zhang, C. et al. (2017) "Small Molecule Accurate Recognition Technology (SMART) to Enhance Natural Products Research." Sci. Rep. 7, 14243 | DOI:10.1038/s41598-017-13923-x.

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.