Gentlemen, we can rebuild yeast. We have the technology…

If you’re a regular reader of Chemical & Engineering News or the BBC News website, you’ve probably already heard about an exciting paper in yesterday’s issue of Nature by Ro et al.

The authors were able to re-engineer S. cerevisiae to produce fairly large amounts of artemisinic acid, a precursor to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin (up to 100 mg per liter of culture). The authors used a novel cytochrome P450 monooxygenase from A. annua to perform a three-step oxidation of amorpha-4,11-diene to artemisinic acid, which can be chemically converted to artemisinin. Malaria kills more than one million people each year, and artemisinin is a highly effective, but costly, treatment. If this process could be scaled up and optimized, the authors “”">project that artemisinin or its derivatives could be produced at costs significantly below current prices, thereby lowering the cost of an artemisinin combination therapy by a significant amount."

This work was funded by a $42.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was was awarded to the California Institute of Quantitative Biomedical Research at University of California, Berkeley, Amyris Biotechnologies, and the Institute for OneWorld Health (a non-profit pharmaceutical company). It’s an interesting collaboration:

To ensure affordability, UC Berkeley has issued a royalty-free license to both OneWorld Health and Amyris to develop the technology to treat malaria. Amyris will transform the Keasling lab’s research into a robust fermentation process and perform the chemistry and scale-up necessary to bring the drug to market. OneWorld Health will conduct pre-clinical studies and implement a global access strategy for the drug.

If you want to learn more about the work, Jay Keasling was interviewed on this week’s podcast and there’s a news story in the April 13th issue of Nature by Narelle Towie.


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)