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A new star in Bay Area biotech
Amyris co-founders Kinkead Reiling, Neil Reinninger, and Jack D. Newman
In 2003 Amyris, an Emeryville-based biotech company in the business of renewable products and fuels, begins operations. Jay D. Keasling, director of the synthetic biology department of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory establishes the company with three postdoctoral students from his lab: Neil Renninger, Kinkead Reiling, and Jack D. Newman. A $42.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation jumpstarts the company’s research.
Early on, the company engineers a bacteria capable of excreting artemisinin, a drug that is 100 percent effective against malaria. Amyris grants a royalty-free license for this technology to Sanofi-Aventis to develop artemisinin-based commercial drugs. Amyris’ impactful work attracts the attention of key venture capitalists including John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures. Vinod recalls: “Amyris was using a very sexy technology and applying it in a radical way to malarial drugs. When I asked the question, ‘Can you do the same for energy?’ the surprising answer was ‘Yes, we can.’”
The company begins developing No Compromise® renewable fuels and chemicals that are designed to perform comparably to, or better than petroleum and even renewable sources like ethanol and biodiesel. Amyris scientists use metabolic engineering techniques to re-design microorganisms to become “microbial factories” capable of producing a plethora of drugs, biofuels and other chemicals. Through its Brazilian subsidiary Amyris Brasil S.A., Amyris possesses a key partner in sugarcane- derived biofuels development.