Evogene Ltd. (TASE:EVGN) has signed a multiyear cooperation agreement with DuPont Company (NYSE: DD) subsidiary Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. to use Evogene's technology to develop soybean varieties that are resistant to the disease soybean rust, caused by a fungal parasite, Phakopsora pachyrhizi.
The anti-Phakopsora pachyrhizi market totals $1.5 billion a year, mostly in North and South America.
This is the second collaboration agreement between the companies within a month, following a deal to develop drought-resistant varieties of corn and soybeans.
Evogene CEO Ofer Haviv told "Globes", "Until now, most of our cooperation agreements involved genes for improving crop's tolerance to extreme environmental conditions, such as drought and salinity. We are expanding our technology to disease resistance."
Soybean rust affects the soybean crop worldwide. Israeli investors became familiar with soybean rust through agrochemicals maker Makhteshim Agan Industries, which developed fungicide to fight the disease.
Under today's agreement, Evogene and Pioneer will create a database of genes linked to soybean rust resistance. Pioneer will test the soybean traits, and will develop and market seeds based on traits found to be successful. Evogene will receive milestone payments and royalties from sales on products developed through the collaboration. Evogene's potential revenue could reach hundreds of millions of dollars, should the improved seeds reach market.
Evogene already has several cooperation agreements to develop improved crop traits. The agreement with Pioneer, however, has no initial payment, nor will Pioneer fully finance Evogene's part of the development. "We have enough cash," says, Haviv, "which is why we can allow ourselves to finance our share of the project in exchange for high royalties."
Evogene also has an option, which comes into effect after the results of the first field trial of the improved soybeans, to finance another part of the project in exchange for more royalties. "We can decide to increase our share when we have much more information," says Haviv. "When you share the risk with your partner, you create greater trust and willingness to share data, which will give us access to technologies we haven’t had before."
Evogene's 2008 cooperation agreement with Monsanto Company (NYSE: MON), included a $35 million initial payment and option for Monsanto to invest in the company at $7 per share. Evogene is currently traded at $3.78 per share, and the companies are considering alternative ways to exercise the option, as it is inconvenient for both companies at the current terms: Monsanto has no wish to invest in Evogene at a price higher than the market price and has no strategic advantage in increasing its stake in the company; while Evogene has no urgent need of cash and does not want Monstanto to increase its control of the company, which might deter other potential partners. The companies may announce a new deal by the end of the month.
"Globes": You've signed many agreements in the past few years. Do you have more strong products suitable for commercialization in the pipeline?
Haviv: " We're only just getting started in our fields of activity. We also have a completely new line of development: enhancing a plant's current defense systems by scattering chemical substances around the seed. This is similar to a person taking vitamins to enhance his immune system."
Evogene's share price fell 2.9% by mid-afternoon to NIS 14.17, giving a market cap of NIS 530 million.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 21, 2011
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