Cal-spawned agrofuel firm hits the deep skids

Amyris, Inc. [previously], the Bill Gates-funded malarial-cure-maker-turned-agrofueler-turned-perfumier-and-tire-stuff-supplier, hit a record low today, plunging to an all-time low of $15.30 before recovering to a still abysmal $15.65 at trading’s close — below the stock’s initial public offering price of $16.00 and the $16.50 shares commanded on the first day of public trading, 28 September 2010.

Shares peaked at $33.89 on 27 January, and after riding a downward-tilting plateau, they’ve been moving steadily toward the crapper since July.

The company began as the creation of UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, funded by software billionaire to use genetically engineered microbes to produce a cheaper version of the antimalarial drug artemisinin, which is naturally derived from the wormwood plant.

While Keasling had promised a drug vastly cheaper than the natural source, by the time production was turned over to a French pharma giant, the GMO drug’s cost was on a par with the non-GMO plant product.

Then Keasling and company tweaked their critters to produce agrofuel, but once again costs were high. So the main customer for the their fuel precursor became cosmetics companies, where the costs were, for the first time, actually less than natural alternatives, though the company does claim to provide agrodiesel to blend in bus fuel in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

In the meantime, Keasling departed for a Department of Energy-funded lab, the Joint BioEnergy Institute, convenient located upstairs from Amyris headquarters in Emeryville. A place where profits don’t matter and shareholders don’t pester.

Keasling brought in a former BP VP to head Amyris, and John Melo has been busily selling off his shares, most recently 20,000 shares at $17.22 per Monday, avoiding the subsequent 9.3 percent share drop. Since 29 March, he’s sold 236,270 shares.

So the only folks to make any money off Amyris thus far either bought very early and sold before the slump or, like Melo, they’re selling off shares received as compensation.

Hope your granny isn’t holding any.


One response to “Cal-spawned agrofuel firm hits the deep skids

  1. Phenomenal coverage. Great story.

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