Amyris Celebrates 10 Years

December 3, 2013

Saving children from malaria and protecting sharks from squalane hunters.

About 10 years ago, a small group of scientists at the University of California Berkeley set out to use an emerging technology to provide high-performance, cost-competitive and sustainable alternatives to chemicals and petroleum products. 

Founded in 2003 with a vision of making a positive impact on the world through science, Amyris initially used its proprietary process to convert plant sugars into an alternative, lower cost, stable supply of anti-malarial therapeutics.

Saving Children from Malaria
Malaria is a preventable disease that affects more than a quarter of a billion people and claims the lives of 650,000 people annually, mostly children under the age of five in Africa. Artemisinin (Artemisia annua), sourced from the wormwood plant, has been used for centuries in treating malaria but its availability, cost and quality have been highly volatile.

Earlier this year, with the support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Amyris formally delivered on its lofty promise, when a major pharmaceutical company began using Amyris-designed microbes to produce enough semi-synthetic Artemisinin for up to 150 million treatments by 2014 and will ensure its distribution under the “no profit, no loss” principle.

The celebration did not end there.

This summer, Centerchem president Jon Packer joined in the celebration to hail Amyris’s Neossance squalane, a sustainably and reliably sourced emollient. According to the executive, Amyris is allowing cosmetic formulators to return squalane to their products without the guilt associated with harvesting sharks or the price and supply volatility of the olive derived source.

“For most companies, to be able to help save millions of children afflicted with malaria, is reason enough to call it a success. But at Amyris, a group of innovative scientists and business leaders is not stopping there. They’ve expanded their core technology to supply renewable alternatives to petroleum-based products across various sectors such as fuels and motor oils to polymers and plastic additives and even hard to find fragrances and cosmetics ingredients like squalane,” said Packer.

Amyris Neossance Squalane
Squalane is a natural non-polar emollient that prevents skin moisture loss while restoring suppleness and flexibility to the skin. Its exceptional moisturizing properties and affinity with the skin have long made squalane a favorite among cosmetics and personal care formulators. Squalane, and the unsaturated version squalene, are both naturally present in the human skin sebum.

Historically, squalane has been sourced from shark liver or olive oil, raising concerns about its sustainability and availability. According to published reports, up to three million deep-sea sharks are harvested annually for their liver oil and used for the production of squalane. Squalane is also produced from the process of refining olive oil leaving market pricing vulnerable to the volatility of the olive crop, made evident by this year’s 50-60% drop in global olive production.

Amyris has a unique biotechnology platform that enables the reliable and sustainable production of 100% plant-derived pure squalane. Amyris’s Neossance squalane, a high performance, renewable emollient, is derived from the fermentation of sugarcane grown in Brazil and can be produced at a scale capable of meeting the world’s demand.

“Amyris squalane is highly moisturizing and fast absorbing making it ideal for elegant moisturizing emulsions, for face and body products. Amyris squalane leaves the skin feeling soft and smooth without a greasy, heavy after-feel. Amyris’s manufacturing process results in a colorless and odorless squalane of the highest quality. And they do all of this from sugar,” added Packer.

“While we can use any fermentable sugar in our process, we are focused on Brazilian sugarcane because of cost, availability and the local industry’s ability to meet international sustainability standards. Through our industrial fermentation platform, we convert plant sugars into a wide range of renewable products. Amyris makes it possible for our customers to choose renewable alternatives without compromising value or performance,” said Zanna McFerson, Amyris’s chief business officer.

Breakthrough Technology
The Amyris breakthrough technology modifies the way yeast processes sugar. Similar to the way beer is produced, where yeast converts simple sugars into alcohol through fermentation, Amyris’s yeast strains convert sugar into a class of compounds called isoprenoids. The company’s initial molecule is a 15-carbon hydrocarbon farnesene, which serves the basis of all of its products to date, including its sustainable cosmetics ingredient Neossance squalane.

“Our new production facility in Brazil is now operating for nearly a year, allowing Amyris to significantly increase its capacity to meet the growing, worldwide demand for our products without compromise. We are committed to growing the squalane market by offering a superior emollient to cosmetics formulators,” said McFerson.

In the past two years, Amyris has grown to become a leading global supplier of squalane to the cosmetics and personal care market worldwide. Amyris is growing the global market for squalane working in partnership with its global distributors, Centerchem (North America), Nikko (Asia Pacific), Dowell C&I (Korea) and Laserson (Europe).
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