Working with PGX – An Overview

Following is a summary of how we at PGX work with our clients…

Essentially, we develop new plant varieties, guaranteeing our clients a 20% or better yield increase.

We charge a low up-front Development Fee, allow an initial one million plants to be propagated and planted without royalty (to provide a quick Fee recoupment) and apply a modest royalty (of around 4%) thereafter.

With plantation and forestry profits typically in the range of 15%-20% (and less, in many cases) our plants are most likely to double our clients’ profits.

Using our plants increases yields and decreases losses without requiring any change in training, inputs, operational processes, equipment or infrastructure while reducing the need for fertiliser and chemicals in some situations. They may also make profitable marginal (low cost) lands or anchor the remediation of degraded ecosystems.

Each plant we develop is a new item of intellectual property (IP). When Clients pay us to enhance their elite plant genetics, we grant them exclusive rights to that new IP.  Typically, we supply 150 newly-enhanced PolyGenomX (PGX) Specimens in tissue culture from which our Clients propagate whatever they require.  All plants bred or cloned from PGX Specimens carry the induced performance traits and are subject to royalty.

Each PGX Plant has a unique genetic fingerprint and performance characteristics which can be identified remotely through automated analysis of agricultural and weather satellite data and matched against GPS license locations.  Plants detected outside of a licensed location can be sampled and traced to their original Development Project and License Agreement.

We view compliance as important for our Clients as it protects their investment in a unique, improved species as well as the business it supports.

Who owns the genes?

In a  recent article by ABC reporters Eleanor Bell and Suzanne Smith titles “Future of food now a global battle” the issue of gene patenting was examined in the context of current research to uncover the genes responsible for stress and drought resistence (something that PolyGenomX has extensive knowledge of). Snippets of the report below, for the full article click here.

The race is on to find and patent all the known stress resistant and drought resistant plant genes in the world. The largest private and public seed, biotech and agrichemical companies and institutions have been granted at least 900 patents over plant genes that will be able to survive a world beset by climate change.

Scientists predict continents such as Africa will need crops that can survive at least a two degree rise in temperature, otherwise thousands of people could starve.

With predictions too that the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, governments are also involved in building seed banks and working with big multinationals to find stress-resistant genes that can be scientifically altered to make plants more resilient.

According to Monsanto Australia’s Peter O’Keefe, Australia is in a unique position to benefit from and contribute to solving the global food shortage expected over the next few decades.

“We’re a big exporter on the world stage, so it’s important that we do our bit,” he said.

“But secondly, Australian farmers need to remain competitive, so we need to have access new technologies and particularly biotechnology to be able to increase production and remain competitive.”

But concerns about the rise in the number of patents being awarded to the top 10 multinational companies, who also have significant market share in seeds, chemicals and other essential farming stock, has prompted Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to launch another inquiry into the issue of patents over genes.

The inquiry, to begin on June 30, will look at whether the patents granted already over plant genes give too much control to companies and institutions and how that control might affect farmers in the future.

A recent Senate inquiry into patents on human genes is expected to report in early June. A landmark court case in the US has also found patents were wrongly awarded over the breast cancer BRCA 1 and 2 genes; the company who owns the patents, Myriad Technologies, is appealing the decision. Currently Myriad Technologies charges women in the United States more than $3,000 for the breast cancer susceptibility test to see whether they carry the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. There is no second opinion tests allowed.

Senator Heffernan says, “In terms of national security and sovereignty, countries need to have control over their seed production not necessarily commercially controlled; now, if a company in America owns the absolute gene patent to a seed bank where does it leave countries like Africa (sic) and God knows where?”

Owning nature

But there is debate about whether the patents are actually granted over natural biological material. Supporters of the patents say the companies who have isolated the genes have done so by using an “invention” and therefore should be allowed control over the genes. Opponents believe the genes are natural biological material and no different when transferred to a lab environment and therefore should be judged as a “discovery” and not be allowed to be patented. The US District Court in the Myriad case found that the patents were null and void because the genetic material claimed in the patents was identical to that which exists inside the body.

Monsanto Australia – one of the top five multinational companies in the seed, biotech and agrichemicals business – says patents drive innovation. Executive director Peter O’Keefe says, “Without patents there’s no reward for commercial companies that spend a lot of time and effort on research and development, discovery and innovation. Patents are the key to ensuring that this research continues.”

He says Monsanto will be applying for more plant gene patents in the future and is happy to comply with Australian regulatory processes.

“We’re in the process of commercialising water-use efficient or drought tolerant corn in North America at the moment. It’s hypothetical but if we were able to bring that product to Australia then we would go through the regulatory process.”

Monsanto rejects Senator Heffernan’s belief that there is no inventive stage in the current plant gene patents.

“There’s a misconception that genes can be patented, that genetic material in its native state can be patented, and that’s incorrect. There has to be a lot more involved in the patent application than just picking a piece of genetic material and slapping a patent on it … it is about combining those genes with other genetic material, reinserting it into another plant. So the plants are lot more complicated than what we call genes or what we refer to genes.”(PGX note – this is specific to GMO’s, our plant technology recreates a natural process called polyploidy in which the plant replicates its genetic material in response to stress, polygenomic plants created through our unique technology are NOT GMO!)

Monsanto says it broadly licenses its developments so the technology is widely used and not restricted. The company says it also waives licence fees and is not charging royalties on some crops in Africa as a philanthropic exercise.

Global markets and the patent system

Geoff Tansey, trustee of the UK Food Ethics Council and author of The Future Control of Food, says global markets and the OECD nations have developed a patent system that benefits the big players and not the small operators and farmers.

Under the World Trade Agreement, all countries must sign up to the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property rights or ‘TRIPS’ convention. The convention forces each country to protect patent owners’ rights. Trade sanctions can be issued if signatories fail to honour patent holders’ intellectual property rights.


The impact on science

The CSIRO has patents on plant genes in crops, and benefits from revenue generated by its patents. One of its scientists, Dr TJ Higgins, is optimistic about the future of crop biodiversity.

“We have access to 300 different crops at least for food. Intellectual property rights are probably concentrated on five or six out of that group so I don’t see it as a major threat … but from the point of food security for the future I don’t see it as playing a major role. It’s much more important that we get stuck into research and development to feed the nine billion people.”

Dr Higgins says being fearful of patents is an old-fashioned view.

“When people say that patents are the worst thing to happen to Australian agriculture I think that’s a simple view of the world and probably not all that realistic. It would be nice to go back to the old ways, but the world has changed,” he said.

One patent expert, Dr Richard Jefferson, a molecular biologist and founder of a not-for-profit research organisation CAMBIA, says patents are encouraging the push to monetise research outcomes in the public sector. He says this could have severe implications for the type of science performed in Australia.

While Dr Jefferson believes Monsanto’s research is a critically important area of investigation, because of Australia’s arid environment he says the public sector should pursue different research initiatives.

“In our rush to find one effective tool, we may neglect many other alternatives that are very effective,” Dr Jefferson said.

He says complex research involving changing agricultural eco-systems through pest introduction or crop rotations aren’t receiving adequate funding. These methods, developed in paddocks and laboratories alike, often require interdisciplinary research and are difficult to commercialise.


Researchers warn delays thwart efforts to save Indonesia’s environment

 by Tom Arup

March 27, 2012

Destroyed … Kalimantan peat swamp.

A $47 million Australian government project to restore Indonesian forests and peatland to protect large carbon stores has been quietly scaled back and is failing to meet even its modest revised goals, new research has found.

The findings follow an investigation by ANU academics Erik Olbrei and Stephen Howes into the progress of the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnerships project, launched in 2007 by the Howard government and since continued under Labor.

The project had originally aimed to re-flood 200,000 hectares of dried peatland, protect 70,000 hectares of peat forests, and plant 100 million trees in Central Kalimantan.

But in a new paper, the researchers say advice they received from AusAid officials in February suggests that now just over 10 per cent – or 25,000 hectares – of the original 200,000 hectares of peatland is expected to be re-flooded.

The authors also say to date only 50,000 trees have been replanted, well short of the 100 million target first touted.

There has also been little progress on removing large canals to drive the peatland re-flooding, due to delays around local environment permits.

Professor Howes and Mr Olbrei said delays in implementing many elements of the project would mean ”in our judgment, it is unlikely that the project, even in its scaled-back form, will be complete by July 2013”

The Kalimantan project is part of a $273 million government program to develop global action on reducing deforestation and developing a forest carbon offset market.

The researchers said the slow progress of such projects compared with the rapid rate of deforestation and peatland destruction in Indonesia, meant current approaches were not working. They recommended that if Australia decided to remain in the project it should be more ambitious, supported by high-level policy dialogue and larger public funds.

A spokesman for the Department of Climate Change said they were working with the Indonesian government to deliver on the objectives of the Kalimantan project in as short a time as possible, but did not have any plans to increase funding.

”As an innovative project, the Kalimantan Forests and Climate Partnerships is trialling new approaches.

”There have been challenges during the project so far; we are using those to learn and improve our approaches,” the spokesman said.

– Interesting follow up to this story is that PolyGenomX has previously developed a Eucalyptus robusta specifically for growing in the Peat Swamps of Borneo!


Aussie Biotech Innovator Hosts Vietnamese Delegation

May 2012

Queensland based biotechnology company PolyGenomX Ltd (PGX) has played host to some of Vietnam’s most prominent business executives. Representatives of Vietnamese giant Dakruco and its subsidiaries Dak Lak Rubber and Dakrutech assessed the unique plant-based technology developed by this innovative Aussie company for use in improving their rubber plantations. Having grasped the broader applications for a range of faster-growing, tougher plants the group is now considering a number of other ventures based on these remarkable plants.

“Our technology allows us to greatly enhance the performance of any plants or trees in a natural manner. We expect growth rate and yield increases in the order to 30% or more, along with greater adaptivity to unfavourable environmental conditions. This means that plant-based businesses can now use unproductive land and yet still gain a shorter time-to-harvest with increased quality and yields.” says PGX MD Peter Rowe.

Dak Lak Rubber, with more than 25,000ha of rubber plantations is now looking forward to increased returns over a shorter time frame without the need for increased inputs of land, water or manpower.

The delegation, led by PGX’s Indochina partner, Viet Bach Nguyen of Global Resources Solutions, toured the PGX laboratory facilities and growing grounds based on the Gold Coast. The party then met with Deputy Premier, Jeff Seeney, at the Executive House in Brisbane and presented gifts of locally produced Moringa Tea for the Deputy Premier and specialty chocolates for Mrs Seeney.

“The Deputy Premier was very gracious and welcoming. Meeting him has been a great honour.” revealed Ms Vy Le of Global Resources Solutions.

Mr Hung, Chief Technical Officer of Dakruco said, “We have enjoyed the two days with PGX and appreciate the opportunity to learn more about such an innovative company. We see many uses for their plant and tree technology in a number of our own companies and look forward to a long and fruitful relationship.”