Discodermolide is an anti-cancer compound derived from the marine sponge, Discodermia dissoluta, first collected in 1987 by Dr. Shirley A. Pomponi, Director of Harbor Branch's Division of Biomedical Marine Research. The compound was isolated from the sponge and characterized by Dr. Sarath P. Gunasekera and Dr. Ross E. Longley at Harbor Branch in 1990. Subsequent studies by the Harbor Branch team and collaborators revealed the compound to be a potent, anti-tumor agent that is effective in killing human cancer cells in vitro with a mechanism of action similar to that of the clinical anti-cancer agent Taxol .
Under terms of the license agreement, Harbor Branch grants Novartis exclusive, world-wide rights for the development, use, manufacture and sale of discodermolide for all potential therapeutic indications. Novartis will provide Harbor Branch with funding for continued research on discodermolide, as well as future payments based on developmental milestones and royalties from the sale of the compound as a drug for the treatment of cancer.
J. Seward Johnson, Jr., of Princeton, N.J., Chairman of Harbor Branch, states: "This agreement is the result of over 14 years of drug discovery research at Harbor Branch, and is the culmination of the last 8 years of research on discodermolide by the Harbor Branch team. Given the exciting and promising pre-clinical data on discodermolide and the expertise in drug development which Novartis provides, our hope is that discodermolide will eventually surpass other chemotherapeutic agents as an effective treatment for cancer".