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Merged Novartis and AstraZeneca Unit to Buy NADII to Lead Bioinformatics Effort

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SYNGENTA, the new company that will be formed once Novartis and AstraZeneca complete their plans to merge agricultural units, is expected to purchase the Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute from the Novartis Research Foundation, Steven Briggs, president and CEO of the institute said.

NADII, a genomics research center dedicated to agriculture, will handle much of Syngenta’s bioinformatics and genomics work.

The Novartis Research Foundation was established and founded by Novartis, but is now an independent organization.

“The plan is that after Syngenta is formed, probably effective January 1, NADII will be purchased from the foundation,” said Briggs. “Syngenta will probably form in November.”

Terms of the proposed deal were not immediately available.

Novartis of Zurich and AstraZeneca of London are still awaiting approval of the merger from the US Federal Trade Commission. And shareholders will vote on the plan next month. The deal received a conditional approval from the European Commission in July based on an agreement that certain businesses will be divested.

Briggs said the institute would be providing bioinformatics systems to Syngenta’s research and development staff, which could potentially be as large as 4,000, almost twice as many users as NADII reaches now through its collaborations with academia and industry.

NADII is likely to be involved in integrating data for Syngenta, tasks which Briggs does not expect to be any larger than what the institute already does with external databases.

“Data integration is essentially a routine part of a bioinformatics group,” he said.

According to Briggs, NADII’s mission as a research institute will not change when it becomes a subsidiary of Syngenta.

“We’ve always wanted to spin things out. That will continue but we’re not going to be selling seeds or chemicals or anything like that. Instead of having a licensing agreement with Novartis we’ll have a more direct relationship with Syngenta, but playing the same role,” said Briggs, who heads a team of about 180 researchers.

As part of its computational infrastructure, NADII has deployed DeCypher server accelerators from TimeLogic and custom software from the Institute for Computational Genomics.

When NADII was created in 1998, the Novartis Research Foundation committed to providing $600 million over a period of 10 years to the institute. A spokesman for Novartis Agribusiness indicated that Syngenta intends to adhere to that plan and maintain NADII at its current funding.

Syngenta is being formed because Novartis and AstraZeneca decided to spin off their agricultural units when they found only modest synergies between the agriculture and pharmaceutical industries. The merged entity is expected to have a research and development budget near $700 million.

—Matthew Dougherty

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