The marine environment represents an outstanding source of antitumoral compounds and, at the same time, remains highly unexplored. Organisms living in the sea synthesize a wide variety of chemicals used as defense mechanisms. Interestingly, a large number of these compounds exert excellent antitumoral properties and have been developed as promising anticancer drugs that have later been approved or are currently under validation in clinical trials. However, due to the high need for these compounds, new methodologies ensuring its sustainable supply are required. Also, optimization of marine bioactives is an important step for their success in the clinical setting. Such optimization involves chemical modifications to improve their half-life in circulation, potency and tumor selectivity. In this review, we outline the most promising marine bioactives that have been investigated in cancer models and/or tested in patients as anticancer agents. Moreover, we describe the current state of development of anticancer marine compounds and discuss their therapeutic limitations as well as different strategies used to overcome these limitations. The search for new marine antitumoral agents together with novel identification and chemical engineering approaches open the door for novel, more specific and efficient therapeutic agents for cancer treatment.
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