This year's annual research and development (R&D) pipeline update marks many firsts for Monsanto Company. Among the record 11 project advancements are the first biotechnology product with a direct consumer dietary benefit and two of the largest commercial product launches in the company's history. These and other projects in the company's R&D pipeline are expected to help farmers meet the unprecedented global challenges facing agriculture.
The 11 project advancements in this year's update is one more than the company's all-time record. Products moving forward include SDA omega-3 soybeans; Genuity™ SmartStax™ refuge-in-a-bag; and Monsanto's first insect-protected Roundup Ready 2 Yield® soybeans designed for the Brazilian market.
The first two of Monsanto's seven High Impact Technologies (HIT) projects - Genuity™ SmartStax corn and Genuity™ Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans - have graduated from the pipeline and are expected to arrive at farmer's fields this year through broad commercial launches.
"We have talked before about being on the verge of a technology explosion, and this is the beginning of it," said Robb Fraley, chief technology officer for Monsanto. "This year you will see the first of those game-changing products delivering on the farm. These are just the first wave of innovation. The projects in the early phases of our pipeline today will continue to fuel the next wave of technological breakthroughs and gain momentum in the years to come."
The products coming out of the R&D pipeline today and in the future will help reset the bar for on-farm productivity and profitability, Fraley said.
SmartStax was developed in collaboration with Dow AgroSciences and approved in July 2009 with a 5 percent structured refuge for the Corn Belt, a breakthrough that will help increase yield and reduce pesticide use. Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences completed a full regulatory submission for a 5 percent refuge-in-a-bag seed blend to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December. This puts SmartStax on commercial track for the industry's only 5 percent refuge-in-a-bag product, pending EPA approval.
A "refuge" is a portion of the field required to be planted with non-insect-protected plantings to minimize the risk of target pests developing resistance.
Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have been researching the concept of combining biotech and refuge seeds in one bag for multiple years. Genuity™ SmartStax with refuge-in-a-bag would allow farmers in the Corn Belt to plant one corn product across their entire field without the need to plant a separate, potentially lower-yielding refuge. In addition to the convenience, this product would further promote compliance with refuge requirements. Monsanto's refuge-in-a-bag product moved to Phase 4, the final phase before commercialization in today's update.
Monsanto's SDA omega-3 soybeans also advanced to Phase 4. SDA omega-3 soybeans offer a sustainable, land-based source of SDA that readily converts to the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil. Last year, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Generally Recognized As Safe notice affirming that the SDA omega-3 soybean oil could be used in a variety of foods. Food companies can now formulate and test the oil from SDA omega-3 soybeans in food products for future launch. Clinical studies have shown that consumption of SDA omega-3 soybean oil significantly raises blood levels of the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid EPA, also found in fish and fish oils.
Each product developed by Monsanto goes through several levels of rigorous testing and development, as well as necessary regulatory approvals before commercialization.
"Our discovery engine screens thousands of genes every year to find the ones that deliver the best traits to be introduced into elite lines from the company's worldwide germplasm base," Fraley said. "Our strength is in continuing to deliver innovation to farmers that allow them to produce more on each acre with fewer inputs."
Projects in the company's yield and stress pipeline, a collaboration with Germany-based BASF, also continue to progress. The most advanced projects, drought-tolerant corn and higher-yielding soybeans, are moving as expected toward market launch. Given the absence of significant weather stress in 2009, Fraley said the company elected not to advance any yield and stress projects until more comprehensive data sets are available to generate the conclusive field research Monsanto requires to prove product performance.
The products in Monsanto's R&D pipeline, when combined with the company's industry-leading elite germplasm base, will help bring about a new wave of innovation that will benefit farmers around the world.
Monsanto's technology development process includes discovery and four phases. The first phase is proof of concept, followed by early development, which includes trait development and large-scale transformation, advanced development involving trait integration, field testing and generation of regulatory data. The final pre-launch phase involves regulatory submissions, seed bulk-up and pre-marketing. Monsanto spends more than $2.6 million a day on research and development. It takes an average of 10 years and $100 million for a biotechnology product to make it to market.
Other projects advancing phases
Several corn, soybean, cotton and canola projects also advanced in the R&D pipeline:
- Roundup® Hybridization System (RHS) for Corn - The Roundup Hybridization System for corn will replace detasseling in hybrid seed corn production, thus reducing cost of goods. RHS, which moved to Phase 3, utilizes a transgenic corn trait created by Monsanto that exhibits high tolerance to glyphosate in all tissues except male reproductive tissues.
Carefully researched glyphosate application rates and timings will maximize glyphosate delivery to the developing male reproductive tissues, selectively eliminating male fertility and the need for manual or mechanical detasseling.
- YieldGard® Rootworm III - YieldGard Rootworm III is designed to offer increased control and durability against the corn rootworm. This next-generation product will use two distinct modes of action providing two different approaches to insect control. A broader spectrum of insect control would mean farmers would have more durability, better management of secondary pests, and the potential for reduced refuge. The product advanced to Phase 2.
YieldGard Rootworm III incorporates cutting-edge RNA interference (RNAi) technology, which is used naturally by cells to regulate gene expression. By harnessing this natural mechanism, RNAi technology can help plants protect themselves from insects.
- YieldGard® Corn Borer III - YieldGard Corn Borer III offers a wide spectrum of control against key lepidopteran pests using two distinct modes of actions. This next-generation product, which moved to Phase 2, is more durable and is designed to offer an unparalleled combination of insect control and resistance management, with excellent control of target pests such as the corn borer complex, fall armyworm, corn earworm and cutworms.
- Dicamba- & Glufosinate-tolerant corn - This next-generation herbicide-tolerant corn product builds on the Roundup Ready® platform and would provide farmers with additional herbicide tolerance options. The multiple herbicide tolerances with different modes of action will offer growers more flexibility to manage difficult weed problems and protect their crop from yield-robbing noxious weed infestations. The product advanced to Phase 2.
- FOPS Tolerance - This next-generation herbicide tolerance product in corn, which advanced to Phase 1, builds on the Roundup platform and will provide farmers with additional in-crop options for weed management. FOPS is a low-cost tank mixing partner for post- emergence control of potential resistant grasses. Current in-crop solutions provide some grass control but crop response can be an issue and may impact yield.
- Insect-protected Roundup Ready 2 Yield - This stacked product is Monsanto's first product specifically developed for the Brazilian market. Insect-protected Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans use the same Bt technology widely used in corn and cotton to control the economically significant insect pests in Brazil, including the soybean looper and velvetbean caterpillar.
The Bt trait is stacked with Roundup Ready 2 Yield for excellent weed control and yield enhancement. This product will provide the first ever in-seed insect protection for soybeans, and it moved to Phase 4, the final phase before commercialization.
- Vistive® Gold - The Vistive Gold trait, formerly known as Vistive III, delivers a trans fat free, reduced saturated fat soybean oil with increased stability for frying and baking applications. The company recently completed submissions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA in support of the Vistive Gold trait. Vistive Gold soybeans advanced to Phase 4 in the pipeline. Oil from Vistive Gold soybeans will have monounsaturated fat content similar to olive oil and low saturated fat content like canola oil. This will allow the food industry to cost-effectively eliminate trans fats and significantly lower saturated fat content of food products.
- Dicamba- and Glufosinate-tolerant cotton - Dicamba- and glufosinate-tolerant cotton is the third-generation of herbicide tolerance in cotton and represents Monsanto's first three-way stack of herbicide-tolerant technologies. This Phase 3 product will provide cotton growers the most effective weed management system available by combining Roundup Ready Flex, with dicamba and glufosinate tolerance for three unique modes of action.
Having multiple herbicide tolerances will give farmers greater flexibility because there are only four known weed species resistant to dicamba in 40 years of use, and no known cases of weeds developing glufosinate resistance.
- Roundup Ready 2 Canola - Roundup Ready 2 Canola is a second-generation herbicide-tolerant trait designed to provide farmers with improved weed control and greater flexibility. Farmers would be able to apply Roundup herbicide at higher rates and within a longer window - up to first flower - thus enabling them to control tough-to- kill perennial weeds. The project advanced to Phase 3.
Greater flexibility would give farmers the opportunity to ensure yield-robbing weeds are removed at the optimal time, and being able to control tough weeds such as dandelion and perennial sow thistle would open up marginal fields for planting.
Monsanto will be holding a media conference call at 11 a.m. (Central Time). To register, please visit https://intercall.webex.com/intercall/j.php?ED=132834122&UID=1100679602&RT=MiM0. In addition, Monsanto has posted a related presentation on its web site at: http://www.monsanto.com/investors/Pages/presentations.aspx. To learn more about Monsanto's R&D pipeline and its phases, please visit: www.monsanto.com/pipeline.
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