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UC Finalizes Pioneering Research Deal With Biotech Firm

    UC Finalizes Pioneering Research Deal With Biotech Firm
    Pie tossers leave taste of protest 
    Charles Burress, Chronicle Staff Writer
    Tuesday, November 24, 1998 
    1998 San Francisco Chronicle 


    Protests and pie throwing greeted the signing ceremony yesterday of a
pioneering, biotech partnership between
    the University of California at Berkeley and the Swiss-based drug and
agri-business giant Novartis AG. 

    Critics say the five-year, $25- million deal not only is a commercial
sellout of UC's academic integrity but also
    will boost the amount of genetically engineered food at the expense of
environmentally friendly forms of

    The university says the pact, believed to be the first such alliance
between industry and an entire U.S. university
    department, contains safeguards to protect academic freedom while
providing needed funding for research and
    graduate-student support. 

    The 11 a.m. signing ceremony was interrupted, however, when a man and a
woman rushed the podium and
    hurled two pumpkin pies topped with whipped cream. The culinary
missiles mostly missed their targets --
    Douglas Watson, president and CEO of Novartis in the United States, and
Gordon Rausser, dean of the College
    of Natural Resources. 

    The two pie tossers -- Daniel McGowan, 24, of San Francisco and Monica
Forgoni, 35, of Oakland -- were
    grabbed by campus police, booked on misdemeanor charges and released.
Credit for the attack was claimed
    jointly by a new anti-genetic engineering group called Hexterminators
and by the Biotic Baking Brigade, the
    group behind several recent pie tossings, including attacks against San
Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and
    Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. 

    The groups also claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack against
UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef,
    who was hit in the face with a banana creme pie during a brown-bag
lunch briefing at the Davis campus. In a fax
    to the media, the groups said the motive was UC Davis negotiations with
Monsanto, which makes genetically
    engineered crops. The pie thrower, a man dressed as a woman, escaped. 

    The UC Berkeley deal signed yesterday gives UC access to Novartis'
proprietary technology and databases on
    plant DNA. Novartis receives special bargaining rights for the products
of the research. 

    While such arrangements are common between industry and individual
professors or teams of professors, this is
    the first one involving agriculture and a whole department at a
land-grant college such as UC, Rausser said. 

    ``This is the first experimental step in what we hope will be a long
and fruitful relationship,'' said UC Berkeley
    Chancellor Robert Berdahl at a packed press briefing. 

    Still being discussed between the campus officials and company
executives is a proposed $25 million research
    lab for UC that Novartis would pay for. 

    Novartis, one of the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies, was
formed by the 1996 merger of Swiss drug
    firms Sandoz and Ciba- Geigy. 

    A group of ``outraged'' graduate students held their own press
conference later and passed out leaflets to
    denounce the deal, saying it ``promotes a narrow focus on
profit-oriented and controversial biotechnological
    research,'' in contrast to the College of Natural Resources' goals of
``sustainability, the environment and food

    The deal calls for a new Norvatis subsidiary, the La Jolla-based
Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute, to
    pay $25 million to UC, of which $16.7 million will fund unrestricted
research in plant genomics. The research
    will focus on plant genes and related plant characteristics, the campus
said in a statement. 

    The remaining $8.3 million will pay for overhead on campus and for
graduate-student stipends in the College of
    Natural Resources. 

    The deal gives Novartis ``first rights to negotiate'' for any
discoveries that result from the research. The
    university will own the patents for any products that result from the
collaboration and will be entitled to

    ``This research, in my view, is the final statement in academic
freedom,'' said Steven Briggs, president and CEO
    of Novartis Agricultural Discovery Institute, which was launched this
year with a $600 million budget for

    Rausser added that more funding for biotech research doesn't mean less
research into natural food-production
    methods. ``They're not mutually exclusive,'' he said. 

    A representative of the Green Party of California, Hank Chapot, said
genetic engineering can have unintended
    consequences that can wreak devastation on the environment. He said
genetically engineered corn produced by
    Novartis in Germany has cross-pollinated with nearby natural corn and
prompted strong protests in Europe. 

    But Watson said the ``genetically enhanced corn'' protects against the
European corn-borer and uses less

    UC officials said university researchers take special pains to test
genetically engineered plants and that many
    endeavors cannot guarantee 100 percent safety. 

    The Berkeley-Novartis deal is patterned after a 1993 alliance between
the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla
    and Sandoz. That deal was modified after criticism from the National
Institutes of Health. 

    1998 San Francisco Chronicle  Page A17