ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

19 September 2002


The world's biggest GM corporation, Syngenta, is pulling out of its much vaunted research alliance with the John Innes Centre.

When the 50 million pound deal was originally announced, Professor Ray Baker FRS, Chief Executive of the JIC's public funding body, the BBSRC, claimed that such "commercially supported strategic projects" would benefit UK businesses, and contribute to UK economic competitiveness.

The deal was held up as a model for UK science to follow: "These developments reflect closely the aims of the Government White paper "Realising our Potential", published in 1993" being "precisely the sort of arrangement that has proved mutually beneficial to academic and commercial partners in the USA and elsewhere."

In truth, the JIC had been encouraged to put all its eggs in the biotech industry's basket, creating an institutional overcommitment to their corporate interests.

As Miguel A. Altieri of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California has pointed out, "The problem is that research at public institutions increasingly reflects the interests of private funders at the expense of public good research such as biological control, organic production systems and general agroecological techniques (Busch et al., 1990). Civil society must demand a response of who the university and other public organizations are to serve and request more research on alternatives to biotechnology."

For more on the unfortunate effects of the JIC's massive overcommitment to the biotech industryy:


John Innes Centre loses research partner as company restructures
18 September 2002

Agriculture, Technology transfer

The John Innes Centre (JIC)[1] and Sainsbury Laboratory (SL)[2], Norwich, have today announced that one of their commercial partners has signalled its intention to withdraw from a major research alliance that was established three years ago. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) [3], the sponsoring body of the JIC, has also expressed its regret at the ending of this research alliance. This decision is a result of the company's global reorganisation following the merger of agricultural businesses AstraZeneca and Novartis.

"While the termination of this innovative research and technology transfer agreement is regrettable," said Professor Chris Lamb (Director of the JIC)  "it will not affect our commitment to remaining at the forefront of  international wheat research. We are already in discussion with Syngenta  about maximising the scientific benefit of the now truncated joint venture.

Wheat is the principal cereal crop in the UK and our research on wheat genomics will continue to provide new opportunities for UK breeders and growers. Transferring what we learn to industry is a key part of the research process and this decision is obviously a setback to this process.

However, JIC has a strong portfolio of knowledge and technology transfer  mechanisms that will continue to help ensure that our research is made  available to industrial and other users as efficiently as possible."

The research collaboration, agreed in 1999, included three elements:

1. The funding of fundamental research projects at JIC/SL.
2. The establishment of a Syngenta Laboratory on the site within the  newly-built Genome Centre.
3. An innovative agreement to protect and share the intellectual property,  arising from the collaborative programme, designed to facilitate the take up and use of publicly funded science by the private sector.

Syngenta has made a business decision to eliminate overlap of expertise and resources that resulted from the merger of Zeneca Agrochemicals and  Novartis Agribusiness.

"We are obviously disappointed that this collaboration will not be  continuing as envisaged," says Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of the BBSRC. "The John Innes Centre is one of Europe's premier facilities for plant and microbial science, and its internationally acclaimed research will not be significantly affected by this decision. This decision is particularly sad as it comes at a time when research is rapidly opening up new opportunities for understanding plant genetics and streamlining the selective breeding process in ways that could help support sustainable food production worldwide. However we recognise the company has had to reassess its needs following merger."

Mr Don O'Nions (JIC Company Secretary) said, "The collaboration is subject to a detailed legal contract which includes termination clauses that cover  exactly this contingency. In the coming weeks we will be working with  Syngenta to develop an exit strategy for them that honours their commitments and protects the interests of the JIC and the SL".

"The funding from the collaboration agreement with Syngenta was for  short-term research projects and was additional to the support for our main science programmes from public bodies and charities", said Professor David Baulcombe (Head of the Sainsbury Laboratory). "It is disappointing that we have lost an opportunity for development of our science. However we shall  continue to explore every possible way of realising the potential of our research to benefit farmers, consumers and the environment."

Notes for editor

[1] John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK is an independent, world-leading  research centre in plant and microbial sciences. The JIC has over 850 staff and students. JIC carries out high quality fundamental, strategic and applied research to understand how plants and microbes work at the  molecular, cellular and genetic levels. The JIC also trains scientists and students, collaborates with many other research laboratories and  communicates its science to end-users and the general public. The JIC is  grant-aided by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

[2] The Sainsbury Laboratory has a worldwide reputation for research on  molecular plant-microbe interactions. The major aim of the Laboratory is to pursue the fundamental processes involved in the interactions of plants and their microbial pathogens and symbionts. Funding for the Laboratory is primarily through grants from a charitable foundation. In addition grants are obtained from research councils, the European Union and other organizations. The laboratory is located at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK, which is an independent, world-leading research centre in plant and microbial science.

[3] BBSRC is one of the seven Research Councils sponsored through the UK  Government‚s Office of Science and Technology and invests around £220  million per annum in the biosciences. BBSRC sustains a world-class  bioscience research community for the UK. Its mission is not only to fund internationally competitive research, but also to provide training in the biosciences, to foster opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and to promote interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest. The wide range of research funded by BBSRC makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

For further information, please contact:
Ray Mathias
John Innes Centre
01603 450641
Mobile: 07770 981655
"With the controversy over genetically modified foods spreading across  the globe and taking a toll on the stocks of companies with agricultural-biotechnology businesses, it's hard to see those companies as a good investment, even in the long term."  The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 7, 2000

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