11 April 2013

Amyris scientists describe breakthrough in development of anti-malarial drug precursor

Sanofi utilizing Amyris engineered yeast strains to produce life-saving drug ingredient at scale

Scientists from Amyris published in the journal Nature the details of a major breakthrough in the field of synthetic biology that allows for the production of a key precursor to Artemisinin, the key ingredient in the world’s most effective and preferred drug in combating malaria. Earlier today, pharmaceutical company Sanofi announced the launch of large-scale industrial production of Artemisinin utilizing Amyris designed strains.

“Yesterday, a group of scientists led by Amyris detailed how we engineered simple baker’s yeast strains to produce unprecedented concentrations of the precursor to the anti-malarial drug ingredient. Today, Amyris scientists celebrate Sanofi’s successful launch of the industrial production of the world’s first semi-synthetic Artemisinin utilizing Amyris designed strains,” said John Melo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Amyris.

“Sanofi’s commercial launch of this key precursor to life-saving drugs produced with our technology underscores not only the success of Amyris’s synthetic biology platform at scale but also the positive impact this technology can have on our planet,” Melo concluded.

Malaria is a preventable disease that affects over a quarter of a billion people and claims the lives of 650,000 people annually, mostly children under the age of five in Africa. Artemisinin, sourced from the wormwood plant, Artemisia annua, has been used for centuries in treating malaria but its availability, cost and quality have been highly volatile.

Working with a number of partners, and with generous support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via OneWorld Health (now PATH’s Drug Development Program), Amyris developed technology to convert plant-sugars into Artemisinic Acid, a late stage precursor to the anti-malarial drug ingredient, Artemisinin. The details of this breakthrough process, as well as an alternative process for converting Artemisinic Acid into Artemisinin, can be found in the online publication of the scientific journal Nature.

In 2008, as part of this non-profit project, Amyris made available its Artemisinic Acid-producing yeast strains to Sanofi, via OneWorld Health, on a royalty-free basis. As separately announced by Sanofi earlier today, this technology is now being used at large-scale to produce Artemisinin, which will be combined in pill form with another anti-malarial in what is called Artemisinin-based Combination Therapy (ACT). Sanofi has indicated it plans to produce enough semi-synthetic Artemisinin for up to 150 million ACT treatments by 2014 and will ensure its distribution under the “no profit, no loss” principle.

“Amyris technology will alleviate drug manufacturers’ dependency on erratic supply of plant-derived Artemisinin and reduce costs to malaria patients. This non-profit project is at the core of Amyris’s values and culture, born from a passion to make a positive impact in the world through science,” said Jack Newman, Amyris co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer.

Source: Amyris, press release, 2013-04-11.

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