Spinoff Company: Amyris Biotechnologies

SynBERC (based at U. California-Berkeley) – A microbial process for inexpensively producing the anti-malarial drug, artemisinin, passed through SynBERC spinoff Amyris Biotechnologies to a major pharmaceutical company.

By engineering yeast and E. coli, Dr. Jay Keasling, Director of the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) headquartered at the University of California-Berkeley, has developed a method of producing artemisinic acid, which can be processed to treat malaria. This microbially sourced drug will make the treatment of malaria affordable in the developing world, where more than a million people a year die of the disease. Keasling’s spinoff company, Amyris Biotechnologies, recently transferred its artemisinin technology to global pharmaceutical firm Sanofi-Aventis, which is working on large-scale development of the product.

Keasling’s underlying original work in this area was funded by the Engineering Directorate’s metabolic engineering program, and the SynBERC ERC has provided the synthetic biology foundation—a large number of re-usable synthetic parts--upon which the translation of this innovation to practical use is being is realized. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been instrumental in the process, providing more than $42 million in total grants to UC-Berkeley for basic and translational research, to Amyris for process development, to Sanofi-Aventis for process scale-up, and to a non-profit U.S. corporation, the Institute for One World Health, for delivery to malaria-afflicted areas in Africa.

SynBERC and UC-Berkeley developed the novel intellectual property model for this large-scale project in the emerging synthetic biology field.