By Mary Welch

The Novartis Research Foundation dedicated $600 million over the next 10 years to fund agricultural genomics research and development.

The foundation, part of Novartis AG, of Basel, Switzerland, will establish the Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute (NADI) to use genomics research to improve plant traits, and to develop new methods of crop protection and new animal health products.

NADI will employ 180 scientists working in 50 labs who will focus on matching genes with traits, primarily through the production and exploitation of gene and protein databases.

Initially, NADI will explore plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses, nematodes and insects, including some model systems, said Sheldon Jones, a Novartis spokesman.

The center will be located in San Diego, near the Novartis Functional Genomics Institute. Some $50 million will be earmarked for building NADI, with another $55 million expected to be spent in annual operating costs. The new building should be ready next year.

In April, Novartis announced it was establishing the $250 million, 20-laboratory Novartis Institute for Functional Genomics. (See BioWorld Today, April 9, 1998, p. 1.)

"We chose San Diego because it is one of the most creative biomedical research environments in the world, and it will have close interaction with the Novartis Institute for Functional Genomics, the Scripps Research Institute and other academic groups," Jones said.

Steven Briggs will head the agricultural genomics institute. Briggs joined Novartis Agribusiness in March as a member of its biological research team. Prior to joining Novartis, he was the director of agronomic traits at Pioneer Hi-Bred International, of Des Moines, Iowa.

Jones said NADI will lead the charge in Novartis' strategic focus on agricultural biotechnology research, maximizing cross-sector cooperation among the functional genomics institute; the company's Crop Protection and Animal Health sectors, both located in Greensboro, N.C.; the Seeds sector, in Golden Valley, Minn.; and the Novartis Agricultural Biotechnology Research Laboratories, located in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

"Genomics is increasingly driving the discovery of new ways to include new and improved plant traits, protect crops and develop animal health solutions," Jones said.

He noted several large agribusiness companies, such as St. Louis-based Monsanto Co. and its merger partner, American Home Products Corp., of Madison, N.J., also are making major investments in agricultural biotechnology.

"But none has committed the same level of resources.," Jones said. "At NADI, genomics will be used to generate databases on the relationships between genes, proteins and traits."

He noted many of the details have yet to be determined, such as whether the institute will partner with other genomics companies.

NADI will be a wholly owned entity of the Novartis Research Foundation, which will own any patents arising from researchers' discoveries. The parent firm, Novartis, will have the right of first refusal to the patents and its divisions — Novartis Crop Protection, Seeds and Animal Health — will have the opportunity to commercialize those patents. *