Biological and chemical diversity from the oceans


Glycobiology in Healthcare

GlycoMar is unique in its combination of marine natural products, glycobiology, and anti-inflammatory discovery and development.

This offers a highly innovative route to the discovery and development of novel therapeutic products. The company has developed a unique skill set which provides our platform for the discovery and development of glycomolecules.


Glycobiology is the branch of biology concerned with the study of structure, biosynthesis, and function of saccharides (sugar chains), which may exist purely or linked to other biological molecules to form glycoconjugates. The term glycobiology was first coined in 1988 and Massachusetts Institute of Technology has declared the science of Glycobiology to be “possibly one of the ten greatest breakthroughs in the 21st century” (MIT Technology Review October 2001, Glycomics).

The study of glycomolecules is technically challenging, as no sequencing tool, such as that used in proteomics or genomics, is available. However, following on from genomics and proteomics, there is increasing recognition of the importance of carbohydrate-based molecules in basic cellular processes. This has resulted in more extensive glycomic studies in the areas of glycosylation of therapeutic proteins, glycosylation patterns in cell recognition, cellular glycoprofiling studies in cancer and other diseases, correlation between activity and sulphation patterns in glycosaminoglycans, and the improved chemical analysis and synthesis of carbohydrate molecules.

The relationship between glycomics and other ‘omics’ – a central position in biomarker and therapeutic research

from Hart, G. W. and R. J. Copeland (2010). "Glycomics Hits the Big Time." Cell 143(5): 672-676.

Glycobiology offers enormous untapped potential in the discovery of new therapeutics derived from saccharides or other molecules which target the biosynthesis and function of saccharides.

Saccharides: multifunctional biological molecules



Saccharides offer potential chemical diversity orders of magnitude greater than their protein and nucleic acid counterparts [2].

For example, DNA can give 256 4-unit structures; amino acids can give 16000 4-unit structures, whereas the nine common monosaccharides have the theoretical ability to generate nearly 16 M 4-unit structures [2]. The level of chemical information encoded in saccharides is therefore unrivalled.

Saccharides have multiple functions which makes them relevant to almost any area of biological research. They are ubiquitously present on cell surfaces, mediating the interaction of cells with other cells, with the extracellular matrix and with effector molecules. The glycosylation of protein molecules is also critical for their function, bioavailability and half-life. Polysaccharides and glycoconjugates also play a major structural role in all connective tissues. Oligosaccharides, which are short chains of sugars derived from larger polysaccharides or synthesised in their own right, are widely studied to identify functional groups within complex glycoconjugates or polysaccharides.

Marine glycobiology offers the exciting opportunity of an enormous diversity of novel compounds, which differ significantly from mammalian glycobiology. Marine carbohydrates form the basis of the long established alginate (from sea weed) industry, and more recently of a number of nutraceutical products (from sea weed, microalgae, and shrimp waste). This demonstrates the feasibility of a long-term business based on marine glycobiology, and highlights the opportunity to establish a new business exploiting the pharmaceutical properties of marine glycobiology products. GlycoMar specialises in the development of marine glycobiology as a source of novel biopharmaceuticals.


1. Hart, G. W. and R. J. Copeland (2010). "Glycomics Hits the Big Time." Cell 143(5): 672-676

2. Turnbull, J.E. and R.A. Field, Emerging glycomics technologies. Nat Chem Biol, 2007. 3(2): p. 7

3. Maeder, T., Sweet medicines - Sugars play critical roles in many cellular functions and in disease. Study of those activities lags behind research into genes and proteins but is beginning to heat up. The discoveries promise to yield a new generation of drug therapies. Scientific American, 2002. 287(1): p. 40-4

Download our white paper: 'Oligosaccharides in drug discovery'



Glycobiology resources:

Carolyn Bertozzi's introduction to chemical glycobiology: