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$25 Million grant comes under the microscope...
Activists say University and Novartis are Too Close

(Cropchoice News – 17 May) -- Opponents of a deal between Novartis and the University of California at Berkeley say the relationship between biotech companies and university research is too close. This week they're taking their fight to the California legislature.

On Monday, California Senators heard testimony from opponents of a 1998 deal in which Novartis (which produces NK Seeds) gave Berkeley biotech researchers $25 million in return for priority access to genetic research and two (of five) seats on the university's research committee.

The hearing was called by California State Senator Tom Hayden. Hayden told the Daily Californian that the Novartis deal "raises significant questions of whether biotechnology research primarily serves the interests of corporations … at the expense of free inquiry and unfettered research."

High ranking university managers testified in support of the deal. They deny it hurts the university's independence and say it provides needed research dollars. A major portion of the Novartis grant went to the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology. Novartis thinks working with the Department will help the company develop its ag biotech products.

Miguel Altieri, a University professor who is an opponent, says many at his university oppose the deal but feel intimidated. Altieri says "There are a lot of people who are afraid of talking about this issue… there is a certain level of faculty being afraid of speaking out."

SOURCES: University Wire, University of California at Berkeley