SCOTS scientists have been awarded £6.3 million to scour the seas for chemicals and compounds which could be used to develop new cancer medicines and antibiotics.

As part of the SeaBioTech project, researchers at Strathclyde University's Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences will tap into a relatively unexplored resource in the hunt for chemicals that could be used in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, food and industrial chemistry sectors.

Professor Brian McNeil, who has been awarded the funding, said that even though marine biodiversity is known to be far greater than that on land, scientists know remarkably little about the full extent of the world's underwater resources.

Prof McNeil said: "Very few studies have been done using modern detection techniques – but indications are that there are many new species of micro-organisms awaiting discovery.

"With the application of modern approaches to discovery and identification of such organisms and their products, it is now possible to explore them for potentially useful products, such as antibiotics, other anti-infectives, anti-inflammatories, and anti-cancer treatments. We're looking to identify new products from the marine environment, such as antibiotics, and find ways to sustainably manufacture them on an industrial scale. We at Strathclyde excel in our ability to find new compounds – such as anti-cancer and anti-infective drugs – and have decades' worth of experience in testing how effective they are. Our research has the potential to dramatically reduce the soaring costs of drugs, which are putting tremendous financial strains on health systems around the world."

The four-year project also aims to contribute to European legislation guiding the sustainable exploitation of these resources, in accordance with the Nagoya Protocol.

The Nagoya Protocol was signed in Japan in October 2010 at the 10th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an legally-binding international treaty designed to conserve "biological diversity" and "the sustainable use of its components and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources".