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Dr. Jack Newman
Amyris Biotechnologies, Inc.
Emeryville, CA, USA
Synthetic Genomics
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
3:30 - 4:00 pm

Abstract:  The Artemisinin Project: a Study in Technology and Impact on Global Health

In 2003, Amyris, UC Berkeley, and the Institute for OneWorld Health joined forces to draw a roadmap from a high-tech innovation to a high-impact contribution to global health.  The grant “New Technology for Global Health, An Affordable, Accessible Malaria Drug” was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for a five year project (2005-2010) to develop a biosynthetic production process for Artemisinin, the main ingredient in front-line anti-malarial drugs known as Artemisinin Combinational Therapies (ACT’s). Artemisnin is currently sourced through solvent extraction from the plant Artemisia annua.  Drastic shortages of this life-saving drug have led to “stock-outs” in the developing world supply chain.  The last major shortage of Artemisinin, in 2004, led to a four-fold increase in price and sent shock waves through the developing world. 

The Gates grant funded development of technology to provide a second source of Artemisinin by creating a biosynthetic pathway in yeast modeled on the Artemisia annua plant.  Yeast outfitted with this new biosynthetic pathway can be used in a large-scale fermentation process to produce the very same Artemisinin molecule found in nature.  The successful completion of this high-risk, high-return technology project led to the recent funding of its commercialization, a follow on investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Institute of OneWorld Health.  The development timeline is tight, but achievable; a world-wide shortage of Artemisinin is predicted for early 2012, as this new manufacturing process prepares to deliver tons of Artemisinin to the marketplace.

The Artemisinin project is a case study in how the hi-tech can be deployed in service of a global heath care agenda.  This presentation by Amyris will outline the challenges faced-- technical and otherwise-- and how they were overcome.  Collective “lessons learned” from the project can hopefully inform future efforts in synthetic biology, and all applications of technology, to make a positive impact on global health and energy sustainability. 

Jack D. Newman, Ph.D., co-founded Amyris with over a decade of research experience in microbial physiology and genetics. Jack received his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a B.A. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Working in the field of bioremediation, Jack began engineering microbes and bioreactors to eat toxic waste while studying the basic processes of gene regulation. Amyris is founded on the groundbreaking technology of green chemical production that was part of Jack’s post-doctoral work in the Chemical Engineering department at Berkeley. Jack is an inventor of the original patented technology underpinning the Amyris production platform, work that led to a $42M grant co-authored by Jack and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to produce a cure for malaria using synthetic biology. As Senior Vice President of Research at Amyris, Jack currently leads a team of over 80 scientists and engineers in the mission to produce renewable fuels and chemicals that are cost competitive with petroleum.