Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Grant
Zagaya is a Round 8 winner of the Grand Challenges Explorations Grant for Groundbreaking Research in Global Health and Development, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Jay Keasling, PhD, the Principal Investigator for this grant and a Zagaya Board Member, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project, “Development of a microorganism to produce artemisinin; an active ingredient in Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), the WHO recommended treatment for malaria.”
To receive funding, Zagaya demonstrated its bold idea for applying synthetic biology to global health challenges, one of five critical global health and development topic areas.
This grant award will fund research to develop a microorganism that produces artemisinin, an active ingredient in Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs), the WHO recommended treatment for malaria. The ultimate outcome of this work is to develop an organism that produces artemisinin at levels required for commercial production at a lower cost than the current semi-synthetic artemisinin production process. The goals of project are 1) to confirm the direct production of artemisinin in the dark from a fungal endophyte; 2) to ensure artemisinin production from the endophyte can be scaled to a commercially viable level; 3) to develop appropriate tools for measuring and qualifying the artemisinin produced. If all three goals are reached, then research would focus on developing a commercially viable pathway to consistent, large-scale production of artemisinin for global use.
To learn more, contact Zagaya.
Dr. John Williamson is a program officer with the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Research in Bethesda, MD. He earned a B.S. in Pharmacy from the University of Mississippi in 1982, a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products Chemistry in 1987 from the University of Iowa, and served as a research faculty member at Yale University from 1986-89. Dr. Williamson began his faculty career at the University of Mississippi in 1989 where he served until 2012.
Dr. Williamson serves on the editorial board of nine scientific research journals and is a member of twelve professional societies. His scientific ideas have generated tens of millions of dollars in competitive research funding and more than one hundred internationally noted publications, several of which have been translated into foreign languages. He has received competitive based research funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation, the American Chemical Society, the American Society of Pharmacognosy, Sigma Xi, Schering Plough Pharmaceuticals, Merck Pharmaceuticals, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the Department of Defense, and the Centers for Disease Control.
Missy Lee, a recent graduate, earned a B.A. in Biological Sciences from the University of Mississippi in 2003. Her work on the persistence of antibiotic resistance in freshwater wetland environments earned her a M.S. in Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Molecular Microbiology in 2006, also from the University of Mississippi. In 2012 Missy earned a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences with an emphasis in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of Mississippi, School of Pharmacy for her work on the discovery, isolation, and identification of antimalarials from fungal endophytes.
Missy is a former Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Fellow and a past Ralph Powe Research Award recipient. In addition, she holds membership in numerous academic societies and organizations including the Mississippi Academy of Sciences, the American Society for Microbiology, Rho Chi, the American Chemical Society, and Golden Key International Honour Society.
John approached Amyris in 2010, knowing that they had worked on anti-malarials in the past. John presented work that he and his student had done on a fungus that appeared to produce artemisinin directly. In 2011, Amyris introduced John and Zagaya, a non-profit working in malaria, since Amyris had shifted focus to renewable chemicals and biofuels.
The preliminary data John and Missy presented were strong enough to seek funding for the next level of development – repeating what had been done and achieving the same outcomes. So with the help of Chris Paddon from Amyris, (a scientist who worked on the Artemisinin Project with Amyris, UC Berkeley, OneWorld Health and sanofi), we wrote the proposal for Round 8 of the Gates Challenge Grants.
Questions? contact zagaya.