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New Agricultural Genomics Company Signs $30 Million Deal with Monsanto and ELM

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HAYWARD, Calif.--Mendel Biotechnology, a functional genomics company that opened here in April, has just taken on its first collaborative partners by signing a joint technology deal worth about $30 million with Monsanto and the Mexican firm Empresas La Moderna (ELM) in the field of agricultural functional genomics. The deal gives Monsanto and ELM exclusive access to Mendel's technical capabilities in plant genetics and genomics for many crops, including corn, soybeans, fruits, and vegetables.

As part of the agreement, Monsanto and ELM each acquired a minority equity interest in Mendel and have agreed to fund a research and development program at the start-up for the next five years. Details of the funding were not provided, but a Monsanto spokeswoman told BioInform that the two firms' total investment equals about $30 million.

In return for the funding, Monsanto hopes to reduce the research and development time for products that enhance the growing, processing, or nutritional characteristics of food. "This collaboration gives us the ability to better understand the function of specific genes in plants, thereby allowing us to more quickly introduce crops with improved agricultural traits," commented Ganesh Kishore, Monsanto's chief biotechnologist.

For its part, ELM will gain exclusive rights to Mendel's technology for the development of proprietary transgenic fruits and vegetables. "This is our first venture in genomics and it builds nicely on our original technology agreement with Monsanto as a preferred provider of agronomic and quality traits we're already using in our fruit and vegetable seed and produce businesses," remarked Alfonso Garza, ELM's chairman and CEO.

Mike Fromm, Mendel's president and CEO, noted that three people at the company work in bioinformatics, which he said is playing a role in the construction of the start-up's infrastructure. He added that the agriculture-oriented biotechnology company is interested in forming additional partnerships, but declined to be more specific. Fromm worked as a research director in Monsanto's agricultural biotechnology unit until March, when he left to help found Mendel. The new company is currently looking to hire a research director, plant genomics scientists, and research associates.

Monsanto, based in St. Louis, is a leading life sciences company with about 20,000 employees worldwide. ELM is an agribusiness biotechnology company that concentrates on developing and marketing vegetable seeds, fruits, and vegetables.

--Joe D'Allegro

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