Milestone achieved toward production of malaria treatment using synthetic biology and fermentation

February 27, 2009

EMERYVILLE, Calif., March 2, 2009 - Amyris Biotechnologies has announced the publication of an article which reveals the achievement of a significant milestone toward the production of amorphadiene, a precursor of the antimalarial agent artemisinin.

The article, "High-level production of amorpha-4,11-diene, a precursor of the antimalarial agent artemisinin, in Escherichia coli" appears in PLoS ONE, an open-access journal from the Public Library of Science, chronicles the steps taken which enabled Amyris scientists to achieve a crucial milestone in the fight against malaria - the production of 25 g/L of amorphadiene through E. coli fermentations.

The production of amorphadiene in E. coli was first described in 2003 but the amount produced was low (50 mg/L). This level was increased to 0.5g/L in 2006, but still 50-fold lower than target production levels. This article describes the interplay of industrial fermentation processes and synthetic biology that achieved the required 50-fold increase in production levels. This milestone acts as proof of concept that commercially relevant concentrations of artemisinin precursors can be produced by microbes for conversion to artemisinin. Publication in PLoS One ensures the information is available free of charge to all nations.

The paper can be found at http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0004489.

The World Health Organization recommends artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) as first-line treatment for malaria. However, supplies of plant-derived artemisinin are subject to the seasonality and volatility common to many plant-based commodities, leading to fluctuations in the price of artemisinin. Commercial scale production of semi-synthetic artemisinin would have the potential to stabilize supply and supplement existing plant-derived materials to create a consistent, high-quality and affordable new source of artemisinin to help meet the projected world-wide demand for ACTs.

The microbial production of Artemisinin precursors was originally demonstrated in the lab of Professor Jay Keasling at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Keasling continued the research and founded Amyris to bring the technology to the developing world.

Dr. Jack Newman, a former Post-doc in the Keasling lab and co-founder of Amyris praised the collaboration effort and the potential of the technology. "The enormous amount of work involved on the road from idea through execution is mind-boggling. I'm grateful to the dedicated team of researchers, philanthropists and visionaries that made this happen. They have demonstrated the potential of this technology to make a difference in the world."
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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation awarded a five-year grant of $42.6 million in December 2004 to the Institute for OneWorld Health, a non-profit pharmaceutical company, to fund the research and development partnership between Amyris and U.C. Berkeley. The research used synthetic biology to develop a stable and scalable, low-cost technology platform for producing artemisinin and its derivatives. The goal of the collaboration is to create a consistent, high-quality and affordable new source of artemisinin, a key ingredient for making life-saving anti-malarial drugs known as artemisinin-based combined therapies (ACTs).

Amyris Biotechnologies

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