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Future of Aventis CropScience s Genomics Activities Uncertain in Light of Possible Sale to Bayer

LYON, France, July 12 – An Aventis executive said Thursday it was too early to speculate about how the proposed sale of Aventis CropScience to Bayer would impact the company’s genomics efforts.

“I don’t know if there will be any effect; it’s too early to tell,” Georges Freyssinet, head of global genomic research at CropScience, told GenomeWeb.

Earlier this week, Aventis said that it had entered exclusive talks with Bayer for the sale of CropScience. The French-Germany pharmaceutical company hopes to divest itself of CropScience by the end of the year and is planning to sell the unit as one piece.

John Abrams, an Aventis spokesman, said the decision to sell CropScience was motivated by the discrepancy between growth in its pharmaceuticals and agricultural businesses. 

“The stock market likes looking at pure plays," he said. "We've certainly not found tremendous synergy in terms of genetic research  [between the agricultural and pharmaceutical businesses].”

The agricultural unit has more than 15,000 employees, approximately 1,200 of who work in research and development. Freyssinet estimated that slightly less than 10 percent of the company’s research was focused on genomics.

The genomics researchers focus on developing nad using genomic tools to find new chemicals as well as to identify new genes for crop improvement.

"We are working on all organisms for agrochemical discovery," said Freyssinet. "We are doing expression profiling, genomic analysis, and target identification and validation."

The company has a host of patents for the genes and their functions, although Freyssinet said he could not offer an exact figure.

CropScience also has a number of academic and corporate partnerships in genomics that could possibly be affected by the merger, but Freyssinet said that it was premature to discuss the possible outcomes. Aventis is involved in three collaborations with German and French consortia in the area of genomics research and also own 50 percent of a joint venture with Exelixis.

In 1999, Exelixis subsidiary Exelixis Plant Sciences and Aventis CropScience formed Agrinomics, a 50-50 collaboration designed to study arabidopsis. Since its founding, however, the companies have released little news about Agrinomics’ activities.

Exelixis also has a higher profile joint venture with Bayer called Genoptera, which is focused on developing technologies that can be used to develop insecticides. 

When asked what Freyssinet thought of the possibility that CropScience could become a part of Bayer, he declined to comment, saying only that “this is one step in the life of a company.”

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