Natural products have been invaluable tools as a source for developing front-line drugs against cancer, infectious diseases, parasites, and as tools in cellular biology, biochemistry, and chemical genetics.

A survey of 246 antitumor drugs approved by the FDA between the late 1940s and 2014 shows that more than 65 percent of them are either natural products or are modified forms of natural product scaffolds — demonstrating the overwhelming potential of secondary metabolites to treat human disease. Moreover, marine natural product discovery has yielded approximately one new drug from every 4,025 natural products developed, which is much better than the industry average of one successful drug in 10,000 compounds.

Assessments of natural product drug discovery for cancer treatments estimate a future market of up to $1.45 trillion. This is based on a conservative survey of approved drugs, candidates in clinical trials and anticipated discovery prospects

Our Library

The library created by the U-M Natural Products Discovery Core is among one of the largest collections of pharmaceutically viable extracts in the United States.

It was meticulously constructed over the past decade by the laboratory of David H. Sherman, Ph.D.,  at the U-M Life Sciences Institute. The collection contains diverse and terrestrial actinomycetes, fungi and cyanobacteria collected from biodiversity hotspots around the globe. And we continue to work with collaborators across the world to collect new source materials under accepted biodiversity conventions. Our collection comprises of strains from:

  • Asia-Pacific
  • the Middle East
  • South America
  • North America
  • the Antarctic

From Microbes to Medicines

Our natural product extracts are curated around the wealth of diversity found in each unique bacterial strain, which on average has evolved at least 30 classes of natural products. 

Therefore, our collection containing more than 7,000 strains could genetically encode up to 210,000 small molecule entities. To maximize our offerings, we have subjected each strain to multiple liquid culture conditions to create a library of 45,000 extracts — each a mixture of at least 30 pharmacologically active chemical entities.

Growth Conditions

Our growth conditions include:

  • International Streptomyces Protocol 2 (I) medium
  • Nutrient poor (N) medium
  • Actinomycetes 3 (Z) medium
  • A3M spiked with Corneybacterium (C)
  • A3M spike with Rhodococcus (R)

Even if these growth conditions unlock just 10-15 percent of the biosynthetic potential of the microbes in our collection, they would encode up to 30,000 natural product small molecules — making our collection one of the largest and most robust available.

Our library provides a unique resource for U-M researchers and outside collaborators to screen novel biological targets for chemical probe and drug discovery programs. State-of-the-art equipment recently acquired by the core will provide faster responses and precision to identify new molecules.

We specialize in transforming naturally occurring molecular entities into patentable intellectual property through medicinal chemistry, synthetic biology and strain engineering.