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Phytodyne Inc. and biotechnology

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Monsanto officials announced Oct. 15 that the company is abandoning its efforts to produce pharmaceuticals from genetically engineered crops, saying that it plans to focus instead on businesses that have greater prospects to begin paying returns sooner.

The company’s chief executive, Hugh Grant, said in a New York Times article that the company’s decision was based on the “uncertainty of the longer-term reward from a highly capital-intensive business.” The move was part of a restructuring by the leading biotechnology company that will result in layoffs of up to 1,200 employees.

The Business Record spoke with Jon Leafstedt, president of Phytodyne Inc. in Ames, to find out what implications Monsanto’s decision might have for the direction of the biotech industry in Iowa. Phytodyne is developing new technology that will allow biotechnology companies to more effectively alter the genetic code of plants, which could allow companies to develop genetically engineered products, including pharmaceuticals, more quickly.

Q: What do you make of Monsanto’s recent decision to abandon its efforts to produce pharmaceuticals from genetically engineered crops?

A: From my company’s perspective, we’re providing tools that will allow companies to more effectively use compounds in plants.

I think the underlying fundamentals for the need for producing cost-effective pharmaceuticals hasn’t changed. And our tools are going to allow companies to do that more quickly.

Q: What’s the significance of the Monsanto decision for the industry in Iowa?

A: It’s a little too early to know what implications it will have for the industry. The companies that Phytodyne has worked with that are producing plant-based pharmaceuticals are very committed to this for the long term, and I would expect them to continue to do so.

Q: Does it change anything your company will be doing? Does it represent an opportunity for smaller companies like yours?

A: We expect that our tools are going to accelerate the production and development of new biotech crops. Whether they’re carrying traits that are more significant for the farmer or the consumer, it’s going to allow them to get to market faster. It will not change our strategy.   

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