By Randall Osborne

Genomics is meeting agricultural biotechnology in a deal between CuraGen Corp. and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., for the study of genetic components and metabolic pathways involved with a new crop-protection product.

"This is the first deal in this area," said Greg Went, executive vice president and co-founder of New Haven, Conn.-based CuraGen.

Under terms of the agreement, CuraGen will use its bioinformatics technology to study the product supplied by DuPont Agricultural Enterprise, a unit of the Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont.

Went said crop protection research, although not often associated with genomics, is similar to drug development.

"A drug is a chemical that modulates a pathway by binding to a target that changes a biological outcome, and [a crop-protection product] affects a pathway in plants to deliver an outcome as well," he said.

"It's directly akin to pharmacogenomics," he said. "We're looking at the mode of action of a crop protection product by seeing what genes it affects in corn."

CuraGen already has a relationship in common with DuPont. Last year, the company signed a $25 million genomics deal with Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc., of Des Moines, Iowa. (See BioWorld Today, June 27, 1997, p. 1.)

"We doubled it in April 1998, and during that time, DuPont purchased 20 percent of Pioneer and set up a joint venture," Went said.

Agbiotech Poses 'No Threat,' Co-founder Says

CuraGen's first foray into agricultural research, the Pioneer deal includes examination of 16 major agronomic traits in Pioneer-bred plants tailored for various climates, seasons and other conditions.

Went said concern about the threat of new agricultural products made by the biotechnology industry is probably unfounded.

"There is no threat here, in my view, and I'm a liberal West Coaster," Went said. "You're using the responsive genes as a surrogate marker so you understand the biology."

He said the scientific findings could be manipulated, but deemed it unlikely.

"I don't think, economically, there's a huge incentive," he said.

CuraGen's stock (NASDAQ:CRGN) closed Tuesday at $7.75, down $0.25. *