For the first time, researchers have successfully engineered a strain of baker’s yeast capable of spewing out malaria drugs on an industrial scale. The French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi has already begun brewing the microbes and announced plans to generate 70 million doses this year.
The advance is the result of a 10-year odyssey in synthetic biology, the wholesale engineering of an organism’s genetic and metabolic system for practical purposes (see “Biology’s Master Programmers”). Amyris, the biotech startup that engineered the yeast strain, is also developing microbes to produce fragrances and other high-value chemicals.
“This is the first synthetic biology project that has been scaled up to industrial manufacturing and will have a real impact in the world,” says Jack Newman, chief scientific officer at Amyris. “There should never been a shortage of artemisinin ever again.”
Amyris had already engineered yeast capable of producing artemisinic acid, the precursor to the drug (see “Cheaper Malaria Drugs”). But the most recent advance, published today in Nature, dramatically improved the yield from 1.6 grams per liter to 25 grams per liter.