ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

20 December 2002


2 items:
Biotech public-private partnership appears to be over
Chemicals giant drops its support


Biotech public-private partnership appears to be over
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A controversial financial partnership between a private company and a public university appears to be ending, falling victim to a slumping biotechnology sector.
The five-year, $25 million deal between biotechnology giant Syngenta International A.G. and the University of California, Berkeley, will expire next November. But a deadline to renew the deal passed last month without the school hearing from the company.
School officials speculate that since the deadline passed without formal word from the Swiss company, the deal -- as it is written today -- will expire without renewal next year. Fueling that belief is the fact that Syngenta is in the same choppy financial waters as the rest of the agriculture biotechnology industry. The company is shuttering its San Diego-based Torrey Mesa Research Institute, which oversaw the deal.
The sector has been particularly hard hit by the overall economic downturn and increasing opposition to its genetically modified food products.
On Wednesday, the chief executive of Syngenta competitor Monsanto Co. resigned amid sagging sales and the company's inability to shake its financial struggles.
Syngenta spokeswoman Lori Captain said that while the economy was tough, the school's speculation still surprised the company.
``There's been no decision,'' Captain said.
The contract calls for Syngenta to annually pay $5 million to the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at Berkeley. In return, the company can license inventions created by many of the department's scientists.
The first-of-its-kind deal polarized the campus and was intensely criticized by some when it was struck on Nov. 23, 1998. Some welcomed the money as a godsend that has brought their research to a higher level; others saw it as selling a college department to private industry.
So far, Syngenta has licensed one university invention.
``We are pleased to date with the results,'' Captain said.
School officials also said the deal can't be judged solely on a single license. Basic research today could lead to blockbuster products five years from now, they said.
``It's premature to judge whether the deal was or wasn't successful for the company,'' said Susan Jenkins, Berkeley's administrator of the partnership.
But Jenkins said the school views its end of the deal as a success.
The Syngenta money allowed its researchers to engage in high-risk experiments that would not have been funded through government grants. Data from some of those experiments is now being used to successfully apply for government grants, money that Jenkins said would help offset the loss of Syngenta money.
Jenkins said the school is confident it will be able to overcome the loss through other funding sources if the deal is not renewed. She also said the school hopes that researchers will be able to secure individual grants from the company.
``We are not cutting back at all,'' she said.


Chemicals giant drops its support

Dec 19 2002
Leatherhead Advertiser
AN AGROCHEMICAL company that came under fire for supporting the Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) has withdrawn its sponsorship.   Syngenta, a multinational firm which develops genetically-modified products and pesticides, offered to give funding to the trust after it relocated to Guildford.
But it decided to stop providing sponsorship after the Advertiser reported how some SWT members were unhappy that a company responsible for producing GM crops was involved with the trust.
Although Syngenta has a history of supporting conservation groups, some felt it was not a suitable partner for Wokingbased SWT, which manages land in Mole Valley.
In a letter to the Advertiser, Syngenta's external relations manager, Dr Ian Weatherhead, said the company develops and markets products that "play an important role in the global provision of plentiful supplies of healthy food crops".
He said that he believed the technology should not be rejected on emotional grounds before it had been given a chance to demonstrate benefits to consumers.
But he said that the company felt it could no longer continue its partnership with the trust and he was "genuinely disheartened" by the reaction of SWT supporters.
SWT director Paul Wickham said: "They called us to say the company felt its support of the trust's work was counterproductive to both sides."
He confirmed that it had been withdrawn, adding that when Syngenta had arrived in the area it had offered support for SWT because of its relationships with other wildlife trusts.
"We considered it, accepted it and publicised it in our What's On publication, which Syngenta sponsored," said Mr Wickham. "The reference in it prompted some members to raise the issue. I think I had 10 letters about it.
"We have been growing our membership significantly over recent years and now have over 10,000 members.
"We have support from a number of businesses and we do believe that they have a role to play in local community organisations.
"I respect the views of those members who didn't think we should be working with Syngenta."

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