Category Archives: Amyris, Inc.

Was the U.S. behind the Paraguayan coup?


That’s certainly a reasonable suspicion about the strange constitutional coup that two weeks ago overthrew President Fernando Lupo. And if that’s the case, the reason becomes abundantly clear in a story from Mexico City’s La Jornada via a translation at Aletho News:

A group of US generals reportedly visited Paraguay for a meeting with legislators on June 22 to discuss the possibility of building a military base in the Chaco region, which borders on Bolivia in western Paraguay. The meeting coincided with the Congress’s sudden impeachment the same day of left-leaning president Fernando Lugo, who at times has opposed a US military presence in the country. In 2009 Lugo cancelled maneuvers that the US Southern Command was planning to hold in Paraguay in 2010 as part of its “New Horizons” program.

More bases in the Chaco are “necessary,” rightwing deputy José López Chávez, who presides over the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Defense, said in a radio interview. Bolivia, governed by socialist president Evo Morales, “constitutes a threat for Paraguay, due to the arms race it’s developing,” according to López Chávez. Bolivia and Paraguay fought a war over the sparsely populated Chaco from 1932 to 1935, the last major war over territory in South America.

The US has been pushing recently to set up military bases in the Southern Cone, including one in Chile and one in Argentina’s northeastern Chaco province, which is close to the Paraguayan Chaco, although it doesn’t share a border with Paraguay [see Update #1129]. Unidentified military sources say that the US has already built infrastructure for its own troops in Paraguayan army installations near the country’s borders with Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil; for example, an installation in Mariscal Estigarribia, some 250 km from Bolivia, has a runway almost 3.8 km long, in a country with a very limited air force.

Now consider a 21 September 2009 SECRET/NOFORN diplomatic cable from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the American embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay referring to U.S. Special Forces training operation then underway in the country:

One year into office, President Lugo is confronted by the reality of governing with a fractured ruling coalition, an antagonistic Congress, and entrenched systemic corruption. Lugo has proven resilient, and thus far has weathered deliberate destabilization efforts that included a wave of small explosive devices and bomb threats in Asuncion. Nevertheless, rumors of coup-plotting persist along with a continual erosion of Lugo’s political capital. Given the current environment and the absence of written status protections for all DoD personnel in Paraguay, their presence poses a potential political risk. At any point, those who oppose Lugo or merely wish to weaken his ties to the United States may publicly raise the issue of U.S. forces in Paraguay and speculate about their role in a way that undercuts U.S. interests. In addition, there is a potential personal risk to U.S. forces on training missions in Paraguay without the benefit of status protections or equivalent.

Then consider this excerpt from another cable, a SECRET dispatch sent to Washington on 2 June 2008 by Deputy Chief of Mission Michael J. Fitzpatrick in Asuncion:

Sensitive reporting indicates that some members of Lugo’s inner circle have ties to representatives of Venezuelan President Chavez. These Lugo insiders claim that he supports Chavez’ plans for Latin America; Lugo has stated publicly and privately (to Embassy officials) that he will not align himself with Chavez. Lugo volunteered to OAS chief of electoral mission (and former Colombia Foreign Minister) Maria Emma Mejia early April 21 that while Chavez was the first president to congratulate him April 20, he does not know Chavez and was delighted that the U.S. Ambassador was in fact the first caller to congratulate him and to offer support for his government. One party in Lugo’s coalition, the P-MAS (Paraguayan Movement towards Socialism), receives Venezuelan financial support.

And here’s an excerpt from another cable, a SECRET/NOFORN 18 June 2007 dispatch from Ambassador Craig Kelly in Santiago, Chile:

Our growing economic relationship with the pragmatic leftist government in Uruguay puts the lie to the claim that greater trade and investment with the U.S. is tantamount to betrayal of local populations. This is critical because poor countries, like Uruguay, are vulnerable not so much to Chavez’s ideology but to his petrobolivars. We need to draw attention to and build on these success stories borne out of engagement with the U.S., as alternatives to Chavez’ vision of a region cut off from the U.S. Even Paraguay’s leftist priest-turned presidential candidate Fernando Lugo has stated he is closer to Bachelet or Lula than to Chavez.

Now let’s add another ingredient to the mix: Genetically modified soybeans peddled by American companies, as noted in an 18 June 2008 cable from Economics/Political Chief James Story at the U.S. Consulate in Sao Paulo: and titled U.S. SCIENTISTS VISIT BRAZIL FOR MOU ON BIOFUELS:

With peasant farmers threatening land invasions to demand land reform and end perceived environmental abuses, Paraguay’s soybean producers last month staged a two-day demonstration intended to call the government’s attention to rural turmoil. Hundreds of medium- and large-scale soy producers parked their tractors on Dec. 15 and 16 along the sides of the roads in 13 departments, creating a so-called “tractorazo”, underscoring the importance of peasant labor to agricultural production. The protest by soy producers comes after months of marches on Asuncisn and threats of land invasion by thousands of small and landless peasants, or campesinos, demanding agrarian reform and an end to the spraying of toxic agro-chemicals. Handling the tensions that fueled it marks a key test for President Fernando Lugo, a former Roman Catholic bishop who took office Aug.15.

Incidentally, the same cable also mention Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned and Bill Gates-enabled genetic engineering company that hopes to make a fortune off of using GM bugs to harvest fuel from plants.

A final bit of context

The so-called constitutional coup that led to Lugo’s ouster followed a bloody confrontation between peasants and police at the site of a massive agricultural plantation the peasants claimed had been illegally seized by a leading supporter of the opposition Colorado party.

So we’re getting the picture of a nominally leftist leader with uncomfortable relations with both an ambitious American military and the peasants’ demand for land reform and their deep dislike of American agribusiness and its monopoly on seeds.

Forgive us if we suspect some deep politics at work, favoring both the Pentagon and global corporations like Monsanto which provide the patented seeds to the latifundistas.

Congress torpedoes Navy, Pentagon agrofuel plans


Both houses have approved legislation that blocks the Navy from buying agrofuels — petroleum substitutes derived from plants, typically grown on industrial Third World plantations — unless they cost no more than conventional fuels.

Their action also bars the Pentagon from funding agrofuel refineries, a major blow to the Obama administration embrace of plant-based fuels, driven largely by Energy Secretary Steve Chu.

It was Chu who, during his tenure as head of the Alwrence Berkeley National Laboratory, played a leading role in winning UC Berkeley that $500 million BP agrofuel research grant and shifted research at the Department of Energy lab toward agrofuel research.

The Pentagon’s agrofuel efforts were initially shaped by Air Force Gen. Charles Wald, the same general also responsible for drafting plans for Africom, the Pentagon’s command for controlling the continent which has seen an ongoing wave of land acquisitions by agofuel corporations.

Just how important is the Pentagon’s agrofuel agenda? Swell, consider one simple fact: The world’s largest single consumer of oil is the U.S. military.

Oh, and the Pentagon’s biggest oil supplier? That would be BP.

The story from Noah Shachtman, writing at Wired’s Danger Room:

The Navy’s ambitious renewable energy plans aren’t sunk quite yet. But they took a major hit Thursday, when the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to all-but-ban the military from buying alternative fuels.

The House Armed Services Committee passed a similar measure earlier this month. But the House is controlled by Republicans, who are generally skeptical of alternative energy efforts. Democrats are in charge of the Senate Armed Services Committee. And if anything, the Senate’s alt-fuel prohibition goes even further than the House’s. If it becomes law, if would not only sink the Navy’s attempt to sail a “Great Green Fleet,” powered largely by biofuels. It would also sabotage a half-billion dollar program to shore up a tottering biofuels industry.

Like their counterparts in the House, senators prohibited the Pentagon from buying renewable fuels that are more expensive than traditional ones — a standard that biofuels many never meet. In addition, the committee blocked the Defense Department from helping build biofuel refineries unless “specifically authorized by law” – just as the Navy was set to pour $170 million into an effort with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to do precisely that.

>snip<

Like their counterparts in the House, senators prohibited the Pentagon from buying renewable fuels that are more expensive than traditional ones — a standard that biofuels may never meet. In addition, the committee blocked the Defense Department from helping build biofuel refineries unless “specifically authorized by law” – just as the Navy was set to pour $170 million into an effort with the Departments of Energy and Agriculture to do precisely that.

Read the rest.

What might the impact of the Congressional action be?

Consider the case of Amyris, the local company started by Chu protégé and former employee Jay Keasling with the help of some Bill Gates money.

Amyris hopes to make synfuel with the help of genetically engineered microbes, but the diesel fuel they’ve churned out costs a whopping $29 a gallon, no sale under the pending legislation.

If the measure makes it into law, we can expect a major shakeup in the already rickety agrofuel industry.

Amyris, which has been struggling with low stock prices since peaking last year at $33.85, only to fall to $1.57 last week, has managed to make it back up to $2.65 as we write, slightly about the company’s liquidation price, if you don’t factor in that $150 million or more they’d have to pay their major investor if it all falls apart.

Amyris shares up again on investment news


Stock of the genetic engineering outfit started by UC Berkeley “genetic engineer” Jay Keasling with Bill Gates money have been edging up from their record low of 18 May.

When we reported Monday that “green” tech investment banker and Amyris board member John Doerr had bought more shares of Amyris, the SEC announcement of a second major buyer and two smaller ones who pocketed an equal value of shares hadn’t made it online.

But now the form is up, and the buyer of the same number of shares as Doerr [211,864 shares for $499,999] fellow Amyris board member Arthur D. Levinson, who chairs Genetech as well as Apple, where he replaced the Steve Jobs in November.

Smaller buys were made by two other board members, venture capitalist and former BP executive Ralph Alexander [21,186 shares, $49,999], and Google CFO and Senior Vice President Patrick Pichette [20,000 shares, $47,200].

A tagline on Seeking Alpha succinctly describes the reaction: A private placement is boosting shres [sic] of Amyris.

Stock rose on Monday’s news, and shares continued up today, closing at $2.36, up from the day’s opening of $2.12.

That’s up almost 80 cents from Friday’s all-time low, but there’s a way to go before it hits last year’s high. That would be $33.85.

Amyris shares bounce back a bit on stock sale


After dropping bad news after Friday’s market close, Amyris dropped some positive news today before market opening, sending the stock briefly up to $2, before dropping to $1.83 at market close.

Today’s close was 26 cents above the record low set Thursday.

The good news was that the company managed to sell $4.1 million worth of stock, presumably the same shares Fidelity agreed to buy in February, then declined to consummate earlier this month

The details from the company’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

On May 18, 2012, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) sold 1,736,100 shares of its common stock in a private placement to certain non-employee directors and related parties for aggregate gross proceeds of approximately $4.1 million (the “Placement”). The Placement was completed pursuant to a series of Common Stock Purchase Agreements, each dated May 18, 2012 (the “Purchase Agreements”), which the Company entered into with the following purchasers: Ralph Alexander, Foris Ventures, LLC (an entity affiliated with John Doerr), Arthur Levinson, Naxyris SA (an affiliate of NAXOS Capital Partners, of which Carole Piwnica serves as a director), and Patrick Pichette. The per share purchase and sale price for the shares of Common Stock purchased in the Private Placement was $2.36, the book value per share of the Company’s common stock, as determined in accordance with the corporate governance rules of The NASDAQ Stock Market.

Before the sale, Doerr, a partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers [KPCB], controlling 3.7 million shares. A major player in so-called green tech investment, KPCB includes among its partners former Vice President Al Gore.

A record low closing for Amyris; loan problems?


Shares closed today at $1.59, the lowest end-of-market-day closing price ever and only two cents above the record low ever recorded during a trading day.

Amyris also dropped another end-of-the-day filing on the Securities and Exchange Commission, extending a bridge loan because anticipated funding from a Brazilian government development bank still hasn’t materialized.

Here’s the contents of the form 8-K filing:

This Current Report on Form 8-K is being filed by Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) to disclose a further extension of the maturity date for the Banco Pine S.A. bridge loan disclosed in the Company’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed on December 28, 2011. As background, on December 22, 2011, effective December 21, 2011, Amyris Brasil Ltda. (“AB”), a Brazilian subsidiary of the Company, entered into a loan agreement with Banco Pine S.A. (the “Lender”) under which the Lender provided AB with a short term loan of R$35,000,000 (approximately US$17.5 million based on the exchange rate as of May 17, 2012) with a maturity date of February 17, 2012. The bridge loan was an advance on anticipated 2012 financing from Nossa Caixa Desenvolvimento, the Sao Paulo State development bank, and Lender, under which such banks may provide AB with loans of up to approximately R$52 million as financing for capital expenditures relating to the Company’s manufacturing facility at Paraíso Bioenergia S.A. in Brazil. On February 17, 2012, AB entered into a supplemental agreement to extend the maturity date for the bridge loan from February 17, 2012 to May 17, 2012.

On May 17, 2012, AB entered into a further supplemental agreement (the “Supplement”) with the Lender under which the parties agreed to extend the maturity date for the repayment of the loan from May 17, 2012 to August 15, 2012. Under the Supplement, in connection with the extension, AB is obligated to pay R$129,150 (approximately US$65,000 based on the exchange rate as of May 17, 2012) as tax on the financial transaction as required by Brazilian law.

Amyris plunges to yet another record low, $1.64


UPDATE III: Lowest-ever closing price of $1.58, a penny up for today’s all-time low.

UPDATE II: $1.57.

UPDATE: Make that $1.60.

The steady downward spiral continues for the stock of Amyris, launched by UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling with bucks from Bill Gates.

Shares of the Emeryville company traded at $33.85 fourteen months ago when its promises to produce cost effective mass quantities of fuels derived from plant fiber by genetically engineered microbes were much ballyhooed by the press and UC Berkeley praised the company as an archetype of the start-up enterprises the university would spawn to solve the world’s problems and revitalize the local economy.

But with the cost of diesel production at $29 a gallon and their Brazilian refinery plagued by contamination woes, the company has proven a nightmare for small investors who believed the hype.

Should the stock plunge below a dollar, the company could be yanked from the NASDAQ stock exchange. . .

Surprise, surprise: Amyris hits yet another new low


Just a penny less than yesterday’s new record low, with shares reaching $1.85 in early trading today.

That’s exactly $32 less per share than just 14 months ago. Not a good sign for the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company started with funds from Bill Gates.

UPDATE: Down more  to $1.80. If it drops below a dollar, the stock could lose is NASDAQ listing.

UPDATE II: That’s where it closed, after a drop to $1.79, the new record low.

Amyris, the corporate Rodney Dangerfield?


The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield is most famous for a single line:

Once upon a time, the UC Berkeley-spawned, Bill Gates-endowed startup did get more than its share of respect, thanks to the celebrity status of founder and Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, who’s appeared on The Colbert Report and was named Scientist of the Year for 2006 by Discover Magazine.

In 2010, Keasling was confidently declaring that the genetically engineered microbes he’d help develop to turn plant fiber into fuel in the laboratory could be scaled up from the test tube  to refinery scale operations with no problems, ensuring commercial quantities of fuel to stave off the peak oil crisis.

That, of course, has proven a fantasy, with Amyris now paying $29 bucks for every gallon of diesel fuel derived from its patented, genetically engineered microbes.

With losses soaring, the company’s stock has tanked, plunging from a high of $33.85 14 months ago to today’s new record low of $1.86.

The company’s rapid descent toward penny stock levels has thrown a damper on new companies seeking to issue initial public offerings, dubbed “the Amyris effect” by Biofuels Digest editor Jim Lane.

Now comes more news about the company’s toxic impacts on the IPO sector from Kevin Quon of Seeking Alpha in a story about the failed IPO of Enerkem, a much-ballyhooed company which hopes to turn sewage into fuel.

Here’s the money quote, particularly that last sentence:

The implications of the company’s withdrawal from its IPO process casts a long shadow upon the public biofuel space. Similar market condition issues were faced with an IPO of Ceres (CERE), a biofuel crop specialist, which faced delays in its own IPO back in early 2012. Yet the largest ramifications are both reflected by and reflective of the current market conditions of recent biofuel companies that underwent an IPO in the past two years. Companies like Amryis (AMRS), Gevo (GEVO), and Codexis (CDXS) all continue to trade under their IPO prices. For its part, Amryis had even helped contribute to the industry collapse through its inability to scale up its production facilities problem-free.

Read the rest.

Amyris has proven very adept at one process, the reverse of what Enerkem had planned: Turning cash into trash.

Amyris hits another record low, $1.86


For shareholders of the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company, the news just keeps getting worse.

Follow the downward-bouncing stock here.

Amyris reveals its biodiesel cost: $29 a gallon


That translates to the price of price of 14 shares of the company’s stock, which is probably the reason they’ve been plummeting since the company made the announcement.

As we write, the stock is selling for $2.02, one cent under the morning’s opening trade.

From Kevin Bullis of MIT Technology Review:

Shortly after it was founded, Amyris had set out to make biofuel using genetically modified organisms and simple chemistry to turn sugar into a type of oil that’s similar to diesel. It had some success making bio-derived biodiesel for buses in Brazil. But the chemicals produced by the company’s microörganisms can be used for other things as well, such as moisturizers and fragrances, that sell for higher prices.

[Tuesday] night, the company said the average selling price for all its products is $7.70 per liter, or $29 per gallon, far higher than the price for petroleum-based diesel. (In Brazil, diesel costs about $1 per liter.)

The average price—which is propped up by the price it can charge for moisturizer—is higher than what Amyris sells bio-derived biodiesel for. (It didn’t disclose the exact price for the fuel.) But even $7.70 per liter isn’t enough for the company to break even.

>snip<

Amyris is still producing biodiesel, in limited amounts, the company said last night. It is also still working on joint ventures that could allow it to build large plants for making fuels at some point in the future, but first it will try to make its moisturizer and fragrance business profitable. Meanwhile, it’s looking to raise new money this year, mainly through partnerships and collaboration agreements, to keep itself afloat.

Read the rest.

This isn’t the first time Amyris has failed to deliver on promises of cheap stuff made with GMO bugs.

The corporation was originally created by UC Berkeley bioengineer and serial entrepreneur Jay Keasling with bucks from Bill  Gates to deliver a vastly cheaper version of the antimalarial drug artemisinin.

The bug makes the drug, but at the same price as the kind derived from the wormwood plants [artemisia] farmed by thousands of subsistence farmers in Africa and Asia — and that’s when it’s sold for no profit by Big Pharma’s Sanofi Aventis.

End of Total contract would cost Amyris a fortune

We also discovered a little item buried deep in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a 23 November 2011 amendment to the contract between Amyris and French oil giant Total, their principal corporate partner in developing fuels from Amyris’ genetically modified microbes.

The joint venture agreement ends 31 December 2013, and if Total decides not to renew, Amyris would be left with an obligation to pay the company $150 million.

Here’s the language that caught our eye:

TOTAL Option Upon the Renewable Diesel Project Completion Date

As used herein, “Renewable Diesel Project Completion Date” shall be December 31st, 2013 or any other date as determined by the Management Committee to achieve the End-Project Milestone (as defined in the Renewable Diesel Development Project Plan).

A. For a period of 90 days following the Renewable Diesel Project Completion Date, TOTAL shall have the option, exercisable in its sole discretion, to notify AMYRIS in writing that TOTAL does not wish to pursue the production or commercialization of the Renewable Diesel Product (such option, the “TOTAL Royalty Option”). Provided TOTAL timely notifies AMYRIS of its decision to exercise the TOTAL Royalty Option (such date of notification, the “Royalty Notification Date”), then the following provisions shall apply:

B. Effective as of the Royalty Notification Date, all of TOTAL’s rights in or to any and all Collaboration IP developed during the performance of the Renewable Diesel Development Project Plan (hereinafter, the “Diesel Collaboration IP”) shall terminate and TOTAL shall assign to AMYRIS all right, title and interest of TOTAL in and to Diesel Collaboration IP. TOTAL shall, at AMYRIS’ reasonable expense, execute all documents and take all actions reasonably requested by AMYRIS from time to time to perfect AMYRIS’ title to and ownership thereof. Prior to the Royalty Notification Date, TOTAL shall not assign or transfer to any of its Affiliates or third parties any such right, title and interest so as to ensure that AMYRIS obtains the benefit of this provision.

C. In consideration of the benefits AMYRIS may derive from the technology and intellectual property developed during the Renewable Diesel Development Project and TOTAL’s assignment of its right, title and interest in and to the Diesel Collaboration IP, commencing on the Royalty Notification Date and ending on the date when AMYRIS has paid TOTAL an aggregate amount equal to $150,000,000 (the “Aggregate Royalty Amount”), AMYRIS shall pay TOTAL a royalty of Continue reading

Amyris plunges again, stock hits new low of $1.89


UPDATE: Just hit $1.96.

UPDATE II: Now at $1.91.

UPDATE III: $1.89. That’s down a full 25 percent since yesterday’s record low.

UPDATE IV: Shares closed at $1.99, down 23 percent from yesterday’s closing.

Holy GMO, Batman!

Yep, the stock of the company created by Jay Keasling UC Berkeley’s resident “celebrity bioengineer” with cash from Bill Gates, is sinking kke a stone. After hitting yesterday’s all-time low of $2.30,, it promptly tanked again this morning.

We’d bet a lot of folk whose shares were worth $33.85 just 14 months ago are wishing they’d sold then.

Today’s plunge follows on yesterday’s bleak earnings [sic] report and Friday’s announcement that one of their major investors had liquidated most of their holding.

Should the stock hit a buck, which seems almost inevitable given the steep decline since the peak, the Emeryville-based firm would lose its NASDAQ listing.

Amyris first quarter losses hit $94.5 million


That was the word today from CEO [and former BP vice president] John Melo.

The loses, which include $36.7 million from failed stock sales and the closure of the company’s U.S. ethanol distribution system, are nearly three times those of the first quarter of 2011.

The announcement heralds yet another setback of the UC-Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company founded by Jay Keasling, Cal’s resident “synthetic biology” superstar and serial entrepreneur [he cashed out of Amryis long ago and has launched another, rival firm].

From the company’s announcement:

Aggregate revenues for the quarter ended March 31, 2012 were $29.5 million versus $37.2 million in the first quarter of 2011. This change in revenue was due to a decline in Amyris Fuels sales as Amyris executes the planned wind-down of this business line. Cost of products sold was $43.8 million versus $34.4 million, related to costs incurred in the delivery of Amyris Fuels products and costs associated with the production of Amyris renewable products. The Company also recorded a charge of $36.7 million in the quarter ended March 31, 2012 related to losses on purchase commitments and write-off of production assets. Research and development expense increased to $21.3 million from $19.7 million, and sales, general and administrative expense increased to $21.7 million from $16.0 million. First quarter 2012 GAAP net loss attributable to common stockholders was $94.5 million compared with $33.1 million in the same quarter of 2011. On a non-GAAP basis, excluding stock-based compensation expense and the losses from fixed purchase commitments and write-off of production assets, the net loss attributable to Amyris, Inc. common stockholders for the first quarter ended March 31, 2012 was $51.4 million compared to $29.1 million in the prior year. A reconciliation of GAAP to non-GAAP results is included in this release.

The Company’s balance at the end of the first quarter of cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities was $103.5 million.

Part of the losses stem from the decision by a major investor, the Fidelity group of funds, to liquidate two-thirds of their holdings in the firm, a bombshell dropped on investors Friday in advance of today’s earning statement.

Fidelity had plunged into Amyris with a massive and much-heralded $25 million buy of “senior unsecured convertible promissory notes” on 28 February.

There’s a name for it: The Amyris effect

The company’s shares hit an all-time low of $2.30 in early morning trading today, then recovered to $2.53 by market close.

The collapse of Amyris share prices — from $33.85 14 months ago to today’s record low — reflects a broader trend in the profiles of companies that have sought to bring genetic engineering to the task of producing new plant-based fuels.

Writing in Biofuels Digest, Jim Lane gives it a name:

Call it the Amyris effect — after the company that has struggled with the issues more than any other, in its pursuit of world-class scale. Why is it important? For one, poor post-IPO performance by the handful of companies that have made it through the IPO gate, is bound to impact the chances of others to come through later.

Read the rest.

A board member departs

The company also filed an announcement with the Securities and Exchange Commission revealing that Samir Kaul, one of six partners at high profile “green” investment firm Khosla Ventures, has resigned as an independent director on the Amyris board:

On May 3, 2012, Samir Kaul resigned from the Board of Directors (the “Board”) of Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”), effective immediately. The Board simultaneously appointed Geoffrey Duyk, a partner of TPG Biotech (the growth equity and venture investment platform of the global private investment firm TPG) and a director of the Company from May 2006 to May 2011, to serve as a director effective immediately following Mr. Kaul’s resignation. The Board appointed Dr. Duyk to the Class I board seat previously held by Mr. Kaul. The Board also appointed Dr. Duyk to serve as a member of the Audit Committee in place of Mr. Kaul. At the same meeting, the Board appointed Carole Piwnica and John Doerr to serve as members of the Leadership Development and Compensation Committee, one to serve as a replacement for Mr. Kaul and one to serve as a replacement for Patrick Pichette, who previously had served on the Leadership Development and Compensation Committee.

TPG is another investor, holding 6.5 million shares.

Khosla Ventures was represented on the board not because of the size of their holdings [only 61,238 shares compared to the 11.9 million held by French oil giant Total] but presumably because firm founder Vinod Khosla is the leading celebrity investors in the green energy game.

More on the departures of two executives

May Day brought the departure of two senior Amyris executives [here and here], and another document filed with the SEC today revealed more details of the Continue reading

Amyris shares hit another new low, $2.30


The shares of the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company are back up to $2,48 as we write, with the company’s earning statement to come today.

Amyris loses major investment, shares at new low


UPDATE III: Shares closed at the all-time low of $2.47.

UPDATE II: Amyris shares hit another new low, $2.49.

UPDATE: Shares just hit another record low as we were posting. They’re now selling for $2.59.

Companies like to drop bad news on Friday. That’s because few people are interested in news on Saturday.

Amyris, the UC-Berkeley spawned genetic engineering company created by Val “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, dropped a bombshell on Friday afternoon: Their biggest mutual find investor, the Fidelity group of funds, is selling off two thirds of their holdings.

The company had trumpeted the news when Fidelity bought 6.2 million shares on 28 February, paying $5.78 a share.

As of market close Friday, those same shares were worth $2.73, and as we write, they’re going for $2.65, just four cents above the company’s all-time low of two weeks ago. Shares were going to $33.85 just 14 months ago.

In a prospectus Amyris filed to sell the Fidelity shares, the company made the usually cautionary disclosures.

These in particular caught our eye:

We have very limited experience producing our products at the commercial scale needed for the development of our business, and we will not succeed if we cannot effectively scale our technology and processes.

>snip<

[O]ur technology may not perform as expected when applied at commercial scale on a sustained basis, or we may encounter operational challenges for which we are unable to devise a workable solution. For example, in 2011 at our contract manufacturing facilities, contamination in the production process, problems with plant utilities, lack of automation and related human error, process modifications to reduce costs and adjust product specifications, and other similar challenges decreased process efficiency, created delays and increased our costs. Such challenges are likely to continue as we and our contract manufacturing partners develop our production processes and establish new facilities.

Back in 2010, in a video produced for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he hangs his hat as the lab’s chief synthetic biologist, Keasling blithely dismissed any problems with scaling up. As he observes in the video “They scale beautifully.”

To which we can only add, except when they don’t.

Back to the prospectus, where we discovered this little item:

The 4,173,622 shares of common stock covered by this prospectus may be acquired by the selling stockholders from us by electing to convert the senior unsecured convertible promissory notes issued to the selling stockholders pursuant to the Securities Purchase Agreement, dated February 24, 2012, by and between us and the selling stockholders. We agreed to file a registration statement with the SEC covering the resale of the shares issuable upon conversion of the unsecured senior convertible promissory notes referenced above.

Note that word “unsecured.”

UPDATE: Some background

Amyris was started by Keasling and funded by Bill Gates to used genetically engineered microbes produce a cheap version of the antimalarial artemisin to replace the drugg naturally derived from artemisia, the wormwood plant, which is cultivated by thousands of farmers in Asia and Africa.

While the bugs produced the drug, the price was no cheaper than the natural version [see here and here for some background.].

They next converted the microbe to produce precursors of fuel from plant cellulose. So far the process has been used mainly to produce higher cost chemicals for use in cosmetics, and mass-produced fuel remains a dream, thanks to those scale-up problems Keasling blithely assured us weren’t a problem.

Then, just two weeks ago, the company announced it was dumping its U.S. ethanol distribution system,

Just what the future holds for the company remains very much in doubt, and just how long the other major institutional investors will be willing to accommodate massive losses before forcing a bankruptcy remains an open question.

Amyris purge fails to sell, shares drop again


The public announcement of the purge at the top at Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering outfit founded by Cal campus celebrity “bioengineer” and serial entrepreneur Jay Keasling, failed to win the confidence of stockholders.

Amyris dropped the announcement of the departures of three top official after yesterday’s market close, leaving today as the first trading session since the news dropped.

Shares opened at $2.89, then plunged, plateauing for most of the session and closing at $2.65, just four cents above the stock’s all-time low set 24 April.

More on that Amyris shakeup: heads roll


It looks like a game of musical chairs over at Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company in nearby Emeryville. With more details of the latest shakeup coming in an official statement of the company.

We’ve been following the company since it began, in part because the founder was UC Berkeley “bioengineering” superstar, Jay Keasling, who launched the outfit with money from Bill Gates.

Keasling is long gone, having cashed out when the getting was still good, and he’s already launched another startup while heading up “synthetic biology” for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and running the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, located just upstairs from Amyris in the same Emeryville building.

But before we get to the specifics on the layoffs, here’s the take from one notable Wall Street analyst, Raymond James equity analyst Pavel Molchanov, via Biofuels Digest:

“Having withdrawn production guidance in February and announced a dilutive ‘emergency’ equity raise in March, Amyris is in rough shape. The stock’s year-to-date decline of over 70% makes it by far the worst performer in our alt energy coverage universe. In this context comes news that Amyris is reshuffling its executive ranks, with the head of operations, chief technical officer and general counsel leaving the company. Concurrently, Steven Mills becomes the new CFO, though the CFO change had been in the works since last year. CEO John Melo appears to retain the board’s support at this point.

“While management changes (and we suspect layoffs too) are probably inevitable given the company’s current condition, ultimately the solution to the recent scale-up difficulties needs to be a technical/operational one, not just cost-cutting. The stock’s recent meltdown suggests that the market may see bankruptcy as a realistic scenario. While in no way minimizing the challenges faced by the company, we think that there is ample cash on hand to sustain operations into 2013 – but the stock could remain in the penalty box until there are clear signs of progress in commercialization.”

Note that use of the B-word, as in bankruptcy.

Digest editor Jim Lane adds a key question:

The pressure is on CEO John Melo to articulate – to investors, and as soon as possible – what the specific problems are at the fermenters. If there is a basic flaw in the technology platform, firing the general counsel won’t solve anything. If there’s no basic flaw, then as a public company, Amyris will be expected to resume guidance to Wall Street, meet those guidelines, or John Melo will certainly be the next to mount the guillotine.

The company has been notoriously remiss in keep its small investors up to date [the big ones have representation on the board], and they’ve been very tight-lipped about those fermenter problems.

Contamination at the company’s Brazilian operations could mean many things, most ominously the possibly of the release of the company’s patented genetically altered microbes into the environment.

We await the details with great interest.

Lane gets one thing wrong in his story of the change-up when he pegs the stock’s all-time high at $30.78. The real number: $33.85, set 14 months ago. The difference between the two numbers is 24 cents more than Amyris shares closed on the NASDAQ yesterday.

Here’s the company’s announcement:

Amyris, Inc. announced the realignment of its senior leadership team in support of the Company’s growth strategy.

“We are realigning our management team as we pursue our current production ramp up. We are committed to achieving profitable, predictable operations,” said John Melo, President & Chief Executive Continue reading

Two top managers depart from Amyris, stock $3.07


Here’s the announcement just filed with the Securities and Exchabnge Commission about departures of two leading members of its management team:

On May 1, 2012, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) announced the departures of certain members of its management team that were decided on April 25, 2012 as result of organizational restructuring. The Company generally expects these departures to be effective by May 2, 2012 (with formal employment separation dates to be determined) and to include the following executive officers named in the Company’s definitive proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 12, 2012 (the “Proxy Statement”): Mario Portela, President of Global Operations (principal operating officer) and Tamara Tompkins, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. In connection with their departures, these individuals may receive severance compensation consistent with the severance provisions of their offer letters or other employment terms, as described in the “Executive Compensation-Potential Severance Payments upon Termination and upon Termination Following a Change in Control” section of the Proxy Statement. The Company expects to identify successors for these roles in the near future.

So both the chiefs of the global operations and their house lawyer have fled, while the stock continues to hover within shouting reach of it’s all-time low.

The company, started by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling with money from Bill Gates, failed to meet its target for profitable operations of its agrofuel business and has concentrated on developing costly chemicals for the cosmetics industry.

The company, repeatedly hailed by UC Berkeley and City of Berkeley officials as one of the premiere startups fostered by the university, has turned into a financial black hole for investors, whose stock today was worth just 9.1 percent of what it fetched little more than a year ago.

We’re particularly curious about the departure of the general counsel.

Quote of the day: Bill Gates’ philanthrocapitalism


From an excellent Eric Reguly Toronto Globe and Mail column about Bill Gates and his aggressive philanthropic and lobbying push for corporate agriculture based on genetically modified crops and corporate chemicals:

Big Ag, including the Monsantos of the world, would have you believe that GM foods, and all the chemicals and fertilizers that go with them, are the solution to world hunger. It’s an argument that should be challenged far more energetically than it is. Sadly, it looks like Gates, with all his crushing power, wealth and influence, is oiling this propaganda machine.

Read the rest.

It was Gates who first bankrolled the GM labs of UC Berkeley spinoff Amyris, which promised us cost-effective fuels from crops and ended up produced cosmetic chemicals.

Amyris: No GMOil to pour on troubled waters?


Amyris shares ended the week at $3.23, up 18 cents for the week and up 64 cents from Tuesday’s all time low. But that’s still $30.62 below last year’s high of $33.85.

The trend at Amyris reflects a large pattern in the “green” energy sector so beloved of Barack Obama and his energy secretary and former head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and BP’s BFF, thanks to that $500 million the former Anglo Iranian Oil Company is pouring into UC Berkeley, a deal Steve Chu helped land in his earlier incarnation here in Bedlam-by-the-Bay.

Amyris was hired by a former Chu employee, UC Berkeley “bioengineer” and serial entrepreneur Jay Keasling [he started one out before Amyris and is already onto his next, having apparently sold off his Amyris stock while prices were better].

Oh, and in addition to being on the State of California payroll as a Cal prof, Keasling’s also the head of the Department of Energy-funded Joint BioEnergy Institute, which is housed in the same building as Amyris.

The man sure does get around.

Oh, and the folks who bankrolled Amyris initially. It started with bucks from Bill Gates to tweak a microbe to produce a cheap drug [it ain’t cheap]. Then, when the company shifted into profit mode as a maker of plant based fuels created by genetically engineered microbes, the inital pile of cash came from the two venture capital outfits most heavily involved in “green tech” investments, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Khosla Ventures [remember those names].

Other venture capitalists followed, but the most cash came from French oil giant Total, and other funds have followed. The latest major player is a Qatari royal, former prime minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa Al Thani.

But it may prove harder for Keasling’s latest corporate creation, Lygos, to raise as much cash as Amyris did.

Writing for Forbes, Ucilia Wang calls the 2012 outlook for new initial public stock offerings in the green tech sector “rather bleak.”

She characterize the green tech startups as speculative plays, given that they’re venturing into new fields and begin existence on government life support.

There were fewer successful sector IPOs last year than the year before and they raised only about 60 percent of the capital of 2010, So far this year the downward trend continues.

Ten of the fourteen companies launched in the last quarter of 2011 were in China, and only one was in agrofuel, Ceres — which had real trouble raising cash.

Then she mentions a certain company of interest:

The story is similar for biofuel developers, some of whom have delayed building refineries because they ran into technical problems or were unable to raise enough money. Amyris, which went public in September 2010 at a lower offering price, said in February this year that it would no longer focus on the biofuel business and would instead target more lucrative markets such as cosmetics.

Rob Day, a partner at private equity firm Black Coral Capital, pointed out that many green tech companies were burning through cash quickly and had no profits to show for when they looked to go public to raise more money. Those who managed to complete an IPO – or tried to but couldn’t – were typically backed by big-name venture capitalists who told “visionary stories about what their companies could become,” Day said. The stocks of many public green tech companies have fallen, some quite dramatically, since their IPOs.

Many of green tech venture capitalists’ reputation as smart investors has taken a beating. Big green tech venture capital firms include Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, Madrone Capital Partners, RockPort Capital and VantagePoint Capital Partners.

“My guess is Wall Street is no longer willing to give the benefit of the doubt to the big-name VCs and back their companies because of who they are,” Day said.

Read the rest.

Oh, and Kleiner Perkins? They’ve got a guy named Al Gore as a partner.

Amyris back up a bit, closes at $3.21


That’s up sixty cents from the record low set Tuesday, but deeply below last year’s high of $33.85.

Lots of rumors floating around, and then there’s this report just sent us here at esnl by a leak:

You may be interested to know they fired the head of HR, Legal and the CTO (a founder) yesterday. The workers assume another big round of layoffs (of non-millionaires) with the company going under by 2013. It’s too bad the science is being killed by a bunch of guys who couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag.

The message boards have been flooded with rumors, ranging from a buyout by Total the closing feared by employees at the Emeryville genetic engineering outfit founded by UC Berkeley genetic “engineer” Jay Keasling with bucks from Bill Gates..

Looks like it’s going to be a really bumpy ride, now that the company is closing down in domestic ethanol distribution system and focusing all its activities on Brazil [where there are rumors of contamination in their stills filled with genetically engineered microbes] and Spain.