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Algae in Pharmaceuticals


Use of algae, especially the cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), for antibiotics and pharmacologically active compounds has received ever increasing interest. There are a range of pharmaceutical products derived from algae. Some of them include:

       Antimicrobials, Antivirals & Antifungals

       Neuroprotective Products

       Therapeutic proteins



1. Antimicrobials, Antivirals & Antifungals

Both Microalgae and macroalgae exhibit antimicrobial activity which finds use in various pharmaceutical industries.

Role of Microalgae

§  Microalgae, such as Ochromonas sp., Prymnesiumand a number of blue Green algae produce toxins that may have potential pharmaceutical applications (Katircioglu et al, 2006)

§  Various strains of Cyanobacteria are known to produce intracellular and extracellular metabolites with diverse biological activities such as antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity (Naoman et al,2004)

§  The biological activities of the algae may be attributed to the presence of volatile compounds, some phenols, free fatty acids and their oxidized derivatives (Zornitsa et al, 2009)

Role of macroalgae

§  There are numerous reports of macroalgae derived compounds that have a broad range of biological activities, such as antibiotic, antiviral, anti- neoplastic, antifouling, anti-inflammatory, cytotoxic and antimitotic (Naqvi et al., 1980)

§  In the past few decades, macroalgae have been widely recognised as producers of a broad range of bioactive metabolites (Caccamese et al., 1981)

§  Such antimicrobial properties enable macroalgae to be used as natural preservatives in the cosmetic industry.

§  The highest percentage of antimicrobial activity was found in Phaeophyceae (84%), followed by Rhodophyceae (67%) and Chlorophyceae (44%). (Noemi et al, 2007)

§  Red and brown macroalgae extracts show significant potential as anti-pathogenic agents for use in fish aquaculture. (Wefky et al, 2008)

2. Neuroprotective Products

Both microalgae and macroalgae are neuroprotective agents and promote nerve cell survival.

Role of microalgae

Among the various microalgal species, Spirulina is most commonly referred as a neuroprotective agent

§  Spirulina platensis may be useful in the development of novel treatments for neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson diseases.

§  Spirulina maxima is found to partially prevent MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6 tetrahydropyridine) neurotoxicity and oxidative stress, suggesting it could be a possible alternative in experimental therapy.

Role of macroalgae

§  Several macroalgae are found to possess therapeutic potential for combating neurodegenerative diseases associated with neuroinflammation.

§  A marine macroalgae, Ulva conglobata, a marine algae, has neuroprotective effects in murine hippocampal and microglial cells


3. Human Therapeutic Proteins

Pharmaceutical companies could substantially reduce the expense of costly treatments for cancer and other diseases produced from mammalian or bacterial cells by growing human therapeutic proteins in algae. Microalgae usually find extensive use as therapeutic and diagnostic proteins.

Role of microalgae

§  Expression of recombinant proteins in green algal chloroplast holds substantial promise as a platform for the production of human therapeutic proteins

§  The percentage of human proteins produced in their algal cultures is comparable to the fraction produced by mammalian cell cultures and much better than that produced by bacterial systems

§  A study confirmed that diverse human therapeutic proteins could be produced in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a green alga

§  Algae can be used to produce

VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) for treating emphysema

HMGB1 (High Moblility Group Protein B1) which activates immune cells

Domain 14 of human fibronectin

Domain 10 of human fibronectin used to increase the accumulation of other proteins

Human proinsulin could be produced by algae, but only at lower levels

The costs of using algae at large scale to commercially produce human proteins should be much lower than for mammalian cell culture, which require expensive Fermentation facilities

4. Drugs

Algal chemistry has interested many researchers in order to develop new drugs, as algae include compounds with functional groups which are characteristic from this particular source.

Role of microalgae

§  Researchers have been able to produce an exciting class of anti-cancer drugs originally isolated from blue-green algae

§  A compound named cryptophycin 1 has been isolated from blue-green algae which hold significant promise as an anti-cancer drug

§  Microalgae produce incredibly potent alkaloidal neurotoxins such as saxitoxin and polyketide neurotoxins such as the brevetoxins for use as anticancer drugs.

§  Role of macroalgae

§  The alkaloids found in marine macroalgae present special interest because of their pharmacological activities.

§  These alkaloids in macroalgae are largely focused on finding drugs for cancer treatment.


Companies Deriving Pharmaceutical Products from Algae

Rincon Pharmaceuticals –

Rallis –

Monsanto –

Jubilant Organosys –

Piramal Healthcare –

AstraZeneca –

Idec Pharmaceuticals –

National Facility for Marine Cyanobacteria –

Novo Nordisk India Private Ltd –

Agri Life SOM Phytopharma (India) Limited –

Labprocure India Pvt Ltd –



The following table lists various algae used in medicine and their respective uses (Reference: Compendium of Materia Medica):






Can be used to treat hemorrhoids, parasitic disease, goiter, asthma, coughing and bronchitis; they reduce fever and ease pain


Can be used to treat goiter; reduce fever, ease pain, induce urination


Can be used to treat urinary diseases, treat edema, expel ascarid; is an ecbolic


Can be used to treat urinary diseases and edema



Can be used to treat cervical lymphadenitis, to diminish inflammation and to induce urination


Can be used to treat goiter, urinary diseases; is an ecbolic; contains iodine and potassium


Can be used to treat urinary diseases, edema, gastric diseases and hemorrhoids


Can be used to treat cervical lymphadenitis, edema; diminishes inflammation; reduces fever; induces urination; contains iodine and potassium



Can be used to treat goiter, bronchitis, tonsillitis and cough


Laxative; can be used to treat tracheitis, gastric diseases and hemorrhoids; can be used to extract agar


Laxative; can be used to treat tracheitis, gastric disease and hemorrhoids; can be used as an agar extract; can be used to make coating for pills


Can be used to treat goiter, tonsillitis, bronchitis, asthma, cough, gastric diseases and hemorrhoids


Marl, parasiticide


Can be used to treat goiter, edema, urinary diseases, can prevent ulcer; can be used to as an agar extract and make coating for pills


Can be used to treat bronchitis, gastric diseases and hemorrhoids; can be used to make carragenate


Can be used to treat bronchitis, tonsillitis, gastric diseases, asthma and cough; is an adhesive, can be used to make carragenate


Can be used to treat gastro-intestinal intolerance




Ascaricide; lowers blood pressure


Can be used to treat goitre, tonsillitis and bronchitis; prevents high blood pressure and scurvy



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Poly unsaturated fatty acids(DHA,ARA,GAL and EPA)

Beta carotene





Aquaculture Feed (Shrimp feed, Shellfish Feed, Marine Fish Larve cultivation )

Carbon Credits

Algae Cosmetics

Paper from Algae




Algae Biopolymers

Algae Pharmaceuticals

Algae Wastewater treatment

Coenzyme Q10




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