Category Archives: Amyris, Inc.

Amyris plunges to new record low, recovers


Amyris Inc. [previously], the UC Berkeley-spawned GMO start-up bankrolled by Bill Gates, Al Gore, and Arab oil sheikhs plunged to less than three shares for a buck before adding on six cents a share by the close of market Tuesday.

The record low of thirty-one cents a share was more than a hundred times below the post-IPO high of $33.85 less than five years ago.

The modest recovery was spawned by news that the company, which abandoned its goal of producing cheap fuel from plant cellulose in favor of turning out basic oils and compounds for cosmetics, had signed a new deal with perfume and flavor firm Givaudan to produce scents for perfumes.

The stock woes haven’t hut company founder and UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling, who sold his stock soon after the IPO, pocketing a eight-figure payoff, a sum that would be worth in the low six figures if he’d held on to his stock.

UC Berkeley-spawned Amyris shares collapse


The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

The decline and fall of Amyris share prices, via NASDAQ.

Amyris Inc. [previously], the company started by UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling to create affordable fuels from using technology created to genetically engineer yeast to produce the most widely used antimalarial drug, hit an all-time low of forty-one cents per share today, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

Part of the reason is contained in a 20 June filing lodged by the company with the Security and Exchange Commission:

On June 14, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) received a letter from The NASDAQ Stock Market LLC (“NASDAQ”) notifying the Company that it is not in compliance with the requirement of NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1) for continued listing on the NASDAQ Global Select Market as a result of the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock being below $1.00 for 30 consecutive business days. This notification has no effect on the listing of the Company’s common stock at this time.

In accordance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5810(c)(3)(A), the Company has 180 calendar days, or until December 12, 2016, to regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1). To regain compliance, the closing bid price of the Company’s common stock must be at least $1.00 for a minimum of 10 consecutive business. If the Company does not regain compliance during such period, it may be eligible for an additional compliance period of 180 calendar days, provided that the Company meets NASDAQ’s continued listing requirement for market value of publicly held shares and all other initial listing standards for the NASDAQ Capital Market, other than the minimum bid price requirement, and provides written notice to NASDAQ of its intention to cure the deficiency during the second compliance period. If the Company does not regain compliance during the initial compliance period and is not eligible for an additional compliance period, NASDAQ will provide notice that the Company’s common stock will be subject to delisting from the NASDAQ Capital Market. In that event, the Company may appeal such determination to a hearings panel.

The Company is currently evaluating its available options to resolve the deficiency and regain compliance with NASDAQ Listing Rule 5450(a)(1).

In other words, Amyris is now officially what’s called a “penny stock,” and stock valued at under a buck and restricted to trade on minor markets.

And while Amyris has promised and failed to deliver on its cheap fuel promises and shifted its development aims to tweaking its yeast to produce genetically engineered cosmetic chemicals, Bill Gates, an original investor from the company’s earliest days, gave Amyris $5 million in April to help cut costs on production of the drug for which he originally bankrolled Keasling and his students.

The drug is produced in Europe and Amyris realizes no profits from its sale.

But now comes more bad news and a possible reason for the continuing decline of the price of Amyris shares.

From the University of British Columbia:

The rapid decline in effectiveness of a widely used anti-malaria drug treatment on the Thailand-Myanmar border is linked to the increasing prevalence of specific mutations in the malaria parasite itself, according to a paper published in The Clinical infectious Disease Journal.

The mutations in specific regions of the parasite’s kelch gene – which are genetic markers of artemisinin resistance – were the decisive factor, the authors say, in the selection of parasites that are also resistant to mefloquine. This resulted in growing failure of the widely-used anti-malaria drug combination of mefloquine and artesunate, the first artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) on the Thai-Myanmar border.

Led by Dr. Aung Pyae Phyo of SMRU, the study used data from a 10-year study of 1,005 patients with uncomplicated P. falciparum malaria at Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) clinics on the Thai-Myanmar border in northwest Thailand.

“This study demonstrates for the first time that artemisinin resistance leads to failure of the artemisinin partner drug, in this case, mefloquine. This means that the first line artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) introduced here in 1994 has finally fallen to resistance,” says François Nosten, Director of SMRU.

Resistance to artemisinin combination therapy drugs (ACTs) – the frontline treatments against malaria infection – poses a serious threat to the global control and eradication of malaria. If drug resistance spreads from Asia to the African sub-continent, or emerges in Africa independently, as has happened several times before, millions of lives, most of them children under the age of 5 in Africa, will be at risk.

The study shows that, contrary to the view sometimes expressed that resistance to artemisinin is not a direct threat, it is in fact responsible for the rapid demise of the partner drug and the failure of the drug combination, resulting in patients not being cured and further transmission of the malaria parasite.

“The evidence is clear: Artemisinin resistance leads to partner drug resistance and thereby the failure of artemisinin combination treatments,” said Oxford Professor Nicholas White, Chairman of the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) and chair of the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN).

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

From the paper, a graph describes the rise of artemisinin-resistant genetic variants.

Given the very limited number of effective drugs, it is urgent to eliminate P. falciparum from the areas where it has developed resistance to the artemisinins, said Prof. White: “The spread of artemisinin resistant Plasmodium falciparum is perhaps the greatest threat to our current hopes of eliminating malaria from the world.”

A unit of the Bangkok-based MORU, SMRU is based in the refugee camps and migrant communities along the Thai-Myanmar border. Led by researchers based at SMRU (Thailand), the study was funded with the support of the Wellcome Trust (UK).

Reference:

Pyae Phyo A et al, Declining efficacy of artemisinin combination therapy against P. falciparum malaria on the Thai-Myanmar border (2003-2013): the role of parasite genetic factors [open access], Clinical Infectious Diseases, published online 16 June 2016.

Amyris Inc. sinks to all-time low, 61 cents a share


Once hailed by UC Berkeley brass as the preeminent startup, founded by the university’s genetic engineering rock star, and on course to save the world from depleted oil reserves by turning plants into transportation fuel, Amyris Inc. [previously] plunged to a record low this week of 61 cents a share, down from an all-time high of $33.85.

From NASDQ:

BLOG Amyris

Amyris was founded by UC Berkeley genetic “engineer” Jay Keasling who with and his students had engineered yeast to produce an anti-malarial drug, and declared they would used the same technology to produce low carbon fuels from cellulose.

Shortly after the IPO Keasling sold his stock, pocketing a ten-figure paycheck and heading back to campus. Investors, including Bill Gates [who had funded the anti-malarial research], a venture capital firm that numbered Al Gore among its principals, Mideastern royals and a Southeast Asian government, plus the oil giant Total and sundry investments piled on.

But the fuels never materialized, at least at anything approaching commercial prices, and the company wound up selling “all natural” cosmetics made from the excrement of those GMO yeast.

First quarter adjusted net losses losses for 2016, announced Tuesday, totaled $32.7 million.

Shares bounced back somewhat Friday, closing at two centers higher than the record low, perhaps on this news, filed with the SEC:

As previously reported, on April 8, 2016, Amyris, Inc. (the “Company”) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (the “Gates Foundation”) entered into (i) a Securities Purchase Agreement (the “Purchase Agreement”), pursuant to which the Company agreed to sell and issue 4,385,964 shares of its common stock (the “Shares”) to the Gates Foundation at a purchase price per share equal to $1.14 (the “Gates Foundation Investment”) and (ii) a Charitable Purposes Letter Agreement (the “Letter Agreement”), pursuant to which the Company agreed to use the proceeds from the Gates Foundation Investment to develop a yeast strain that produces artemisinic acid and/or amorphadiene at a low cost and to supply such artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to companies qualified to convert artemisinic acid and amorphadiene to artemisinin for inclusion in artemisinin combination therapies used to treat malaria. The entry into the Purchase Agreement and the Letter Agreement was previously reported in the Company’s Current Report on Form 8-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on April 11, 2016, which is incorporated herein by reference.

On May 10, 2016, the Company and the Gates Foundation closed the Gates Foundation Investment, resulting in the issuance of 4,385,964 Shares to the Gates Foundation for proceeds to the Company of approximately $5.0 million.

In other words, Gates is paying the company to deliver the same product he originally funded Keasling and his students to develop.

And the earth below: San Francisco Bay


From NASA’s Earth Observatory, a look at San Francisco Bay at night, with the nocturnal lights of San Jose on the lower left, and the cities of Stockton and Modesto captured by the larger masses of light toward the right of the image:

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-2604 was acquired on September 25, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 37 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs at NASA-JSC.

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-2604 was acquired on September 25, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 37 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, Jacobs at NASA-JSC.

Batshit crazy: Berkeley may close chem dept.


From Science:

The University of California (UC), Berkeley, is considering disbanding the university’s College of Chemistry to help cope with a cash crunch at one of the country’s most prominent public universities. According to an article in today’s Daily Californian, the university’s flagship campus is $150 million in debt, and faced with flat income from tuition and rising costs. Though no decisions have been made, closing the College of Chemistry and absorbing its departments into other university colleges is just one of the many plans being considered to save money.

The College of Chemistry dates back to 1872. Today, it’s home to 101 faculty, as well as 1492 students and postdocs.  Its chemistry and chemical & biomolecular engineering departments are regularly listed among the top worldwide. Thirteen of the college’s faculty and alumni have won Nobel Prizes. And since 1940, College of Chemistry scientists either led or participated in the discovery of more than a dozen humanmade elements, including berkelium, californium, and seaborgium.

Supporters of the college have started a petition asking Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to scrap the idea of disbanding the school. As of this morning, more than 2250 people have signed the petition. Among the signees is Carolyn Bertozzi, a former Berkeley chemistry professor, who recently moved to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, and posted a comment on the petition’s webpage quipping that the only beneficiaries of the move would be competing institutions.

“UC [Berkeley] College of Chemistry has impacted the chemical sciences, indeed the world, more than any counterpart at any other institution. Dismantling this paragon of excellence is only a good idea if you are at Stanford!” Bertozzi wrote.

Apparently they’re not a profit center, or trendy like, say Jay Keasling, the “bioengineer” who promised us cheap, clean-burning fuel from genetically engineered intestinal bacteria and gave us only a company that pitches cosmetics on Home Shopping Network.

What more to say?

In other Berkeley news, a headline from the London Daily Mail:

Four women report being drugged at two Berkeley fraternity parties the same weekend as an alleged sexual assault at a third fraternity on campus

  • Two of the students claim they were drugged at the Chi Psi fraternity house and two others say they were drugged at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity
  • A sexual assault was also reported on Friday night at an unnamed fraternity
  • The news comes just weeks after a suspect was implicated for three sexual assaults near People’s Park and the UC Berkley campus

Quote of the day: Bill and Melinda, Gateskeepers


We’ve written extensively about the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in privatizing the worker of public university researchers, folks then work they did at, say, UC Berkeley, then turn into mechanism for private profit, and in so doing belie the hypocrisy inherent in their declarations of altruism.

Now Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? [PDF], a major report by Mark Curtis for Global Justice Now takes a close look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and comes to the same conclusion:

[T]he trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We argue that this is far from a neutral charitable strategy but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation.

Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective. For the foundation in particular, there is an overt focus on technological solutions to poverty. While technology should have a role in addressing poverty and inequality, long term solutions require social and economic justice.  This cannot be given by donors in the form of a climate resilient crop or cheaper smartphone, but must be about systemic social, economic and political change – issues not represented in the foundation’s funding priorities.

Perhaps what is most striking about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is that despite its aggressive corporate strategy and extraordinary influence across governments, academics and the media, there is an absence of critical voices. Global Justice Now is concerned that the foundation’s influence is so pervasive that many actors in international development which would otherwise critique the policy and practice of the foundation are unable to speak out independently as a result of its funding and patronage.

Amyris: From agrofuels to First World cosmetics


It’s either a classic case of bait-and-switch, or else the classic example of the failure of genetic engineers to make the products they promise.

Here at esnl, we’ve devoted lots of coverage to Amyris Inc., the company founded by one of UC Berkeley’s shining stars, “bioengineer” Jay Keasling, celebrated by leading publications and the darling of the liberal media, an “aw shucks’ kid from Nebraska who just happens to be a Ph.D. at a leading university and one of science’s leading openly gay celebrities.

With big bucks from Bill Gates, Amyris and his post grads founded Amyris Inc.

Keasling had hit the limelight when he and his team promised to create the basic front-line antimalarial artemisinin by genetically tweaking yeast cells to extrude precursor molecules.

But by the time they finished and ramped up to industrial-scale production, the drug sold on a non-profit basis for the same price as the conventional drug, meaning that the only economic outcome was the loss of a few thousand Third World farmers who grew the plant from which the drug was derived.

And in Third World malarial hot spots, resistance to the drug has begun to surge.

Amyris, backed by big investments from BP, the Mideast, and Singapore, then announced its plans to market those cost-competitive fuels derived from cellulose left over from sugar cane production and other plant sources, digested by those same microbes with different genetic tweaks.

The University of California held up the company as a sterling examplar of the for-profit spinoffs of Berkeley researchers. Amyris, media reports claimed, was offering the world the hope of clean-burning fuels, green replacements for the world’s dwindling reserves of fossil fuels, even though some of Keasling’s own colleagues were openly skeptical.

Well, forget that. The investments kept coming, but no cost-competitive fuels were ever produced.

Amy Harder covered the new reality for the 21 December print edition of the Wall Street Journal, which we discovered in a dentist’s office, waiting to drive a doped-up friend home after a wisdom tooth extraction.

From her report, which doesn’t appear online:

Amryris, a California-based biotech company, provides oils extracted from yeast for some 400 fragrance and cosmetics brands, including L’Occitane Provence, Elizabeth Arden Inc, and Clarins.

Amyris launched its first direct-to-consumer product earlier this year, a yeast-derived face moisturizer called Biossance. The moisturizer, which Amyris boasts is 100% plant-derived, costs $58 per 1.2-ounce bottle.

And what, you may ask, happened with the Mayris promise to create cost-competitive transportation fuels derived from cellulose digested by those same genetically modified microbes?

A federally funded demonstration project ended two years ago, and, the article reports.

Last year, about one-third of Amyris’s business was related to fuels; today it is 20%, and by next year [company president John] Melo predicts, it will be 5%.

Now he is working to convince investors the firm isn’t what it was a few years ago — an energy company tied to the oil market. “There’s a significant misperception,” he said. “People still think out economics are connected to oil prices.”

So from providing cheap, low emissions fuel for a world facing a climate disaster, Amyris has moved on.

And Keasling, the Wunderkind of UC Berkeley, pocketed millions when the company went public, leaving well before the reality set in.

To quote the Bard of Avon:

O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!