Web Date: January 9, 2007
Syngenta, Diversa To Pursue Biofuels
Syngenta and Diversa are restructuring a four-year-old R&D collaboration, shifting its focus to the development of enzymes used in the production of biofuels. Diversa says the refocusing means it will receive less research funding in the next two years but potentially better payback farther down the road.
Syngenta, one of the world's largest agribusiness companies, signed the original R&D pact with Diversa in 2003, when Diversa was a high-flying biotech company applying its directed-evolution technology to a wide variety of industrial and health care efforts. The agreement called for Syngenta to fund $118 million worth of research at Diversa over seven years. According to Diversa, $35 million of that money remains.
In the past few years, however, Diversa has scaled back its efforts and is now focused on the development of high-performance enzymes. Under the new agreement, which spans 10 years, Syngenta is committing $16 million in R&D funding over two years. Although that amount is less than what remains under the old pact, Diversa is now entitled to receive milestone and royalty payments that it says could be substantial.
The old collaboration was concerned broadly with genomics for plant science. The new agreement is targeted at enzymes effective at converting cellulosic biomass into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol or other fuels. Diversa will work to produce the enzymes via fermentation, while Syngenta aims to grow them in transgenic plants.
Diversa CEO Edward Shonsey says the pact reflects his company's emphasis on the emerging field of biofuels. Diversa already has launched enzymes that convert corn into ethanol, and it is developing enzyme blends that can be used to convert biomass into fuels. Here, the firm's initial focus will be on fuels from bagasse, the cellulosic material left over after processing sugarcane.
Shonsey says Diversa is also exploring the idea of taking equity positions in corn ethanol manufacturers to obtain more value from its existing enzymes and to provide a platform for investing in cellulosic ethanol.
Other enzymes companies are also pushing into biofuels. Codexis, which competes with Diversa, signed a biofuels agreement with Shell Oil last year. Novozymes, the world's largest enzymes company, is supplying technology to the ethanol producer Broin for use in a cellulosic ethanol plant. And Genencor, the number two enzymes company, is building a demonstration biomass ethanol plant with the start-up company Mascoma.
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