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Amyris developed technology capable of creating microbial strains to produce artemisinic acid — a precursor of artemisinin, an effective anti-malarial drug.

The Malaria Challenge

Malaria is a preventable disease that affects over a quarter of a billion people and claims the lives of 650,000 people every year, mostly children under the age of five in Africa. In addition to its debilitating impact on the health of populations in developing countries, malaria has also been shown to be a major constraint to economic development.

Malaria patients can be treated with highly effective Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs), but cultivating and extracting artemisinin, which comes from the Chinese Sweet Wormwood plant, is expensive and time consuming. Lack of access to this vital compound prevents millions of people in the developing world from receiving critical ACTs.

The Artemisinin Project

Amyris first developed and applied our technology to create microbial strains that produce artemisinic acid, a precursor of artemisinin, a highly effective anti-malarial therapeutic. This work was funded by a five year grant awarded from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation via OneWorld Health (now PATH’s Drug Development Program).

Amyris is working to ensure access to affordable malaria treatments worldwide. In 2008, Amyris made available its Artemisinic Acid-producing yeast strains to Sanofi, via OneWorld Health, on a royalty-free basis. In early 2013, Sanofi announced this technology is now being used at large-scale to produce Artemisinin for ACT treatments. Sanofi has indicated it plans to produce enough semi-synthetic Artemisinin for up to 150 million treatments by 2014 and will ensure its distribution under the “no profit, no loss” principle.

Amyris scientists, working with others in their field, have detailed in a major breakthrough in the scientific journal Nature. In the journal, scientists describe how they engineered simple Baker’s yeast strains to produce never seen before concentrations of the precursor to the anti-malarial drug ingredient Artemisinic acid.The details of this breakthrough process, as well as an alternative process for converting Artemisinic Acid into Artemisinin, can be found in the online version of Nature.