Category Archives: Amyris, Inc.

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!

Chart of the day: Resistance to malaria drug


UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling became a media darling after Bill Gates decided to bankroll Amyris [previously], a company that would tweak the genes to the antimalarial drug artemisinin which would be far cheaper than the standard version, refined from plants grown by small farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia.

By the time all was said and done, production of the GMO-derived drug was given to a Big Pharma outfit and produced at a price that was no cheaper than the existing drug.

The net result: Small farmer saw their incomes cut.

The notion of artemisinin as a panacea for the disease, a cause Gates no doubt saw as a way to use his wealth to do good, has been soundly defeated, as indicated in this graphic from the 31 July 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal:

BLOG Artemisinin

World Malaria Day offered some key numbers in April:

BLOG Malaria

Keassling’s company repurposed itself to reengineer the bugs to produce cheap fuel from plant cellulose, fuels more efficient than the ethanol derived from more readily refined plant sugars.

The company went public with much fanfare and media hype, and stock soon rose to $33.85. But as the hype proved just that, shares began to fall, currently selling for $2.13 a share. But Keasling sold out early and walked away with an eight-figure payoff.

And the search for a more effective antimalarial is on.

BP abandons its cellulosic agrofuel ambitions


Yep, the British oil giant’s dream that spawned the largest corporate academic grant in history is dying, reports Bloomberg:

BP Said Planning to Close US Cellulosic Operation by End-1Q 2015

BP Plc (BP/) plans to close down its U.S. cellulosic operation by the end of next year’s first quarter, according to a person familiar with the development.

The business was part of an effort to find ways to produce ethanol from sources such as switchgrass, wood chips and agricultural waste as an alternative to biofuels from food crops. BP Biofuels North America paid $98.3 million in 2010 for Verenium Corp.’s cellulosic biofuels business. The purchase included facilities in Jennings, Louisiana and San Diego.

Cellulosic biofuel is a liquid fuel made by extracting sugars out of grass. At the time of the purchase from Verenium, BP executives said they intended to be a leader in the industry in the U.S.

BP is exploring options to sell the demonstration plant in Jennings, a technology center in San Diego, the Highlands feedstock farm in Florida and some activities in Brazil, Houston or London, spokesman Brett Clanton, said in an e-mail.

The British firm, once known as the Anglo Iranian Oil Company, failed in its bid to leverage the power of American academics here at the University of California at Berkeley in partnership with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to create a  genetically engineered microbe capable of turning plant fiber into fuel at a reasonable cost.

The half-billion-dollar grant, the largest ever given to a public university, created the Energy Bioscience Institute, housed in a taxpayer-funded building in downtown Berkeley, which housed a team of scientists from the university and the oil company.

The pact between the university and the petro giant was negotiated in secret and the deal was announced without consultation with the university’s academic senate, prompting a general furor and student and faculty protests, leading to an eventual submission to the senate, where debate was tightly controlled and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

Leading the charge for the deal was the-then president of the UC Board of Regents and spouse of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rich “Greasy Thumb” Blum, who is currently adding to his millions by selling off the historical legacy of the U.S. Postal Service, for which the CBRE Group, Inc. which he chairs draws a tidy commission.

Back in the days when we reported for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we covered the controversy surrounding the project and senate vote, and were persuaded by the evidence offered by Tad Patzek, then a petroleum geologist on Cal’s faculty, and others such as Cal plant microbiologist Ignacio Chapela that BP’s vision was based on flawed and ecologically dangerous scientific premises. The deal was also riddled with conflicts of interest, and research was underway before the deal was even signed.

Now even BP is giving up on the dream.

Another fuelish dream slowly dies. . .

Some of the biggest boosters of the BP deal have made millions of agrofuel dreams by building up and selling off companies using genetic engineering techniques developed while on the public payroll,

The most notable example is Amyris, which gave Cal “bioengineer” Jay Keasling a nice ten-figure profit when he cashed out. Amyris promised to develop cost efficient fuels far more energy efficient than ethanol.

Good thing for Keasling that he cashed out when he did, since even massive cash infusions from Bill Gates, French oil giant Total [BP’s major European competitor along with Shell], and the Singapore government’s investment company haven’t been able to save the company’s dream.

The only commercial products the company’s been able to produce in commercially viable quantities have been cosmetic oils, not vehicle fuels. . .which may account for which the firm’s shares are currently selling for $2.42, down from the post-IPO high of $33.85.

We really wonder what’s happening inside that massive building in Downtown Berkeley where BP’s scientists toiled away in hopes of fulfilling their oh-so-profitable fuelish dreams. While the deal was heavily covered at the time it went down, it’s been virtual silence ever since.

Now that BP’s abandoned its production dreams in the U.S., hopefully one of the local papers will pick up the lead and follow through.