New: EATS, SHOOTS 'N' LEAVES:Layoffs at Amyris? Huge losses for the year

By Richard Brenneman
Wednesday March 07, 2012 - 11:15:00 PM

Amyris, the cheap anti-malarial drug maker agrofuel refiner cosmetic company supplier using genetically altered microbes as microscopic refineries, has just laid off a fifth of its workforce, a reader tells esnl.
None of the corporate executives had to bite the bullet. 

While we’ve not found confirmation on the Internet, the reported move comes as the company unveiled in losses for last year, a total of $177.9 million. 

Based just south of Berkeley in Emeryville, Amyris was created by UC Berkeley bioengineer Jay Keasling with cash from Bill Gates to create a cheap antimalarial drug, but the product they produced costs as much as the same drug derived from plants, a crop that keeps thousands of small farmers employed in Africa and Asia. Amyris developed the technology, then gave it to Swiss pharmaceutical giant Sanofi-Aventis to sell at a break-even price. 

Repurposing itself as a for-profit agrofuel refiner, using the same microbe with new genetic tweaks, the company later abandoned that trade, with its technology in other corporate hands, including French oil giant Total. 

In its third incarnation, Amyris uses its microbes to churn out a costly cosmetic chemical. 

Corporate founder Jay Keasling, as noted before, has moved on to another startup, Lygos, and is back in the agrofuel game. 

The company’s stock was down again for the day, closing at $4.69, six cents lower than Tuesday’s closing and fifteen cents above its all-time low, set during yesterday’s trading. 

Amyris had been hailed as a rising star by both UC Berkeley and city officials, and cited by the city as one reason to effect major zoning changes in the city’s western industrial section that could lead to the loss of existing manufacturing and craft jobs to make way for university-spawned startups. 

We hope city officials will think again, given that the overwhelming majority of high tech startups fail, while the existing West Berkeley firms and businesses offer the only decent good-paying blue collar jobs in the city that don’t required advanced degrees.