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Novartis Ag Genomics Institute Will Partner And Hire In Bioinformatics

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SAN DIEGO, Calif.--The Novartis Research Foundation, funded by the Swiss pharmaceutical and agribusiness company, announced plans late last month to invest $600 million during the next 10 years to fund what is expected to be the world's largest agricultural genomics research initiative. The Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute (NADI) will be built here, not far from a $250 million pharmaceutical genomics research facility currently under construction by Novartis in La Jolla, Calif.

Steven Briggs, who left a position as director of agronomic traits at Pioneer Hi-Bred in March to join Novartis, will head a team of about 180 researchers as president of NADI.

Briggs told BioInform that bioinformatics specialists will be a "significant fraction" of the group he recruits. He added that, although "hiring the best people is always hard, whether or not there is a shortage," he expects the combination of location, money, and an academic setting at the new institute to ease the recruiting process.

Outside collaborations in informatics will also be established, Briggs told BioInform. "I want people in the institute to do things that cannot be done elsewhere," he said. "In other words, if we can buy it, we will. Our goal will not be to do something in-house just to do it cheaper."

Briggs said the institute will conduct genomic research related to animal health, crop protection chemicals, and seeds. He said various projects will investigate fungi, bacteria, and viruses, in addition to nematodes, insects, and plants.

"I want people in the institute to do things that cannot be done elsewhere. If we can buy it, we will. Our goal will not be to do something in-house just to do it cheaper."

Whole-genome expression profiling will be conducted in a number of model organisms, including Arabidopsis, Drosophila, and Caenorhabditis, he said. Briggs said his group will be doing an unusual amount of organismic work, and determining coding sequences for the organisms--data that will not be generated by current sequencing projects of those genomes.

The company said NADI will work in tandem with the Novartis Agribusiness Biotech Research facility at Research Triangle Park, NC, and with Novartis research stations worldwide. Briggs told BioInform that databases and technologies developed at the institute would not be commercialized, but used as a competitive advantage. However, technological discoveries with a broader value could result in spinoff companies, he said.

Novartis said additional investments will be announced this fall.

--Adrienne Burke

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