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Monsanto touts R&D pipeline advances

There have been more than 20 advancements in Monsanto’s research and development pipeline for the fifth consecutive year, with seven projects moving to the launch phase. 

There have been more than 20 advancements in Monsanto’s research and development pipeline for the fifth consecutive year, with seven projects moving to the launch phase. The pipeline is expected to deliver up $25 billion in peak net sales, according to the company’s executive vice-president and chief technology officer, Dr Robb Fraley. He was delivering what is expected to be the company’s last R&D pipeline update before Bayer’s planned acquisition of the business this year. The update was presented along with Monsanto’s first-quarter results.

The company’s third-generation genetically modified insect-resistant maize line for the control of above-ground pests, Trecepta, is to be launched in the US this year. It has three modes of action against corn earworms (Helicoverpa zea) as well as protection against fall armyworms (Spodoptera frugiperda), corn borers (Ostrinia nubilalis) and cutworms (Agrotis spp). The product is aimed at areas where above-ground lepidopteran pests are particularly acute but below-ground pests are not a threat. There will be tailored trait configurations and product names for each region. A fourth-generation version aimed at lepidopteran pests in South America, with two modes of action against fall armyworms, entered advanced development (phase three). A fifth-generation global product with multiple new modes of action against all key pests entered the early development stage (phase two).

The company’s third-generation maize product for use against below-ground pests, SmartStax Pro, remains at the pre-launch (phase four) stage. It has three modes of action against corn rootworms (Diabrotica spp) and incorporates RNAi technology. There will be tailored trait configurations and product names for each region. Monsanto has initiated early licensing discussions with several companies, Dr Fraley noted. The company sees a market opportunity of over 100 million acres (40 million ha) across the Americas. A fourth-generation version with a novel protein and RNAi modes of action is in early development. Monsanto’s insect-resistant maize pipeline is said to have a peak sales potential of $1.5-2 billion.

Third-generation herbicide-tolerant maize with tolerance to dicamba, glyphosate and glufosinate-ammonium remains at the pre-launch phase. A fourth-generation version with tolerance to dicamba, glyphosate, glufosinate-ammonium, 2,4-D and aryloxyphenoxy propionate (“fop”) herbicides remains in advanced development. A fifth-generation product including tolerance to a protoporphyrinogen oxidase (PPO) inhibitor, which is being developed in collaboration with Sumitomo Chemical, is at the proof of concept (phase one) stage. A new formulation of Sumitomo’s PPO herbicide advanced to phase one, allowing for parallel development of the herbicide and trait. Monsanto’s maize herbicide tolerance traits have a stated peak net sales potential of $1.5-2 billion.

A second-generation version of Monsanto’s insect-resistant and glyphosate-tolerant Intacta RR 2 Pro (MON87701xMON89788) soybeans, Intacta 2 Xtend, remains at the pre-launch stage, with commercial introduction planned for 2021. Multiple modes of action are aimed at improving durability and expanding the insect control spectrum to include armyworm and podworm complexes. The company sees a market potential of over 100 million acres. A third-generation version with multiple modes of action against primary and secondary pests is in early development. Insect-resistant soybean lines have a peak net sale potential of $500 million-1,000 million.

The next-generation version of dicamba- and glyphosate-tolerant Roundup Ready 2 Xtend (MON88708xMON89788) soybeans adds tolerance to glufosinate-ammonium. To be branded as XtendFlex soybeans, they are at the pre-launch phase. A version with tolerance to glyphosate, dicamba, glufosinate-ammonium, hydroxyphenylpyruvate dioxygenase (HPPD) inhibitors and another mode of action is in early development. Soybeans with added tolerance to PPO herbicides are at the proof of concept stage. Herbicide-tolerant soybeans in the pipeline have a peak net sales potential of $2-2.5 billion.

Monsanto’s insect-resistant MON88702 cotton has advanced to the pre-launch phase. It produces the Bt mCry51Aa2 toxin for the control of pests such as plant bugs (Lygus spp) and thrips. The EPA recently proposed the registration of the cotton for seed production purposes. Monsanto expects to commercialise the technology in the next two to three years. A fourth-generation insect control product, Bollgard 4, with multiple modes of action against lepidopteran pests, entered the early development phase. A fourth-generation weed control system for cotton, with tolerance to dicamba, glyphosate, glufosinate-ammonium and one or two new modes of action for pre- and post-emergence control of broadleaf weeds and grasses, also entered early development.

Monsanto points to several advancements in its seed applied solutions portfolio, including four from the BioAg Alliance with Danish company Novozymes. Corn BioYield 2, which is expected to be branded as Acceleron B-360 ST, advanced to the pre-launch phase. It harnesses the signal molecule, lipo-chito-oligosaccharide, which promotes beneficial microbe interactions to boost nutrient and water uptake. It is expected to be used in conjunction with the maize inoculant, Acceleron B-300 SAT (Penicillium biliae), which was introduced in late 2016 and used on more than 4 million acres during its first year on the market. Acceleron B-300 SAT is expected to be applied to 8-10 million acres in 2018, with Acceleron B-360 ST scheduled for introduction in 2019.

The Soy BioYield 2 project entered the advanced development phase. It is based on the soil bacterium, Bradyrhizobium spp, which enhances nutrient uptake. The Soy BioNematicide project also moved into advanced development. It shows activity against multiple nematode species, including soybean cyst nematodes (Heterodera glycines).

BioAg Alliance products are currently targeted at North and South America, but in 2019-20, it expects to launch products for maize, oilseed rape and wheat growers in Europe. The products will mainly be based on Acceleron B-300 SAT and Acceleron B-360 ST technologies.

A Monsanto seed treatment that has had mixed fortunes is the nematicide, NemaStrike (tioxazafen). The company received EPA approval for the product in May 2017 and was preparing to launch the technology for the 2018 planting season. However, it decided to delay commercialisation due to skin irritation issues. It will instead carry out a second year of Ground Breaker trials with farmers this year. The company sees a potential 125 million acre market across maize, soybeans, cotton and other crops.

Other crop protection products advancing in the R&D pipeline include: a maize herbicide combining dicamba, acetochlor and a third mode of action (early development); a next-generation dicamba pre-mix for maize (early development) and soybeans (advanced development); low-volatility 2,4-D for maize (early development) and soybeans (advanced development); and a foliar version of a maize and soybean fungicide being developed in collaboration with US pharmaceutical company Nimbus Therapeutics that entered the proof of concept stage. A seed-applied version is in early development.

   

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