Biotechnology in Agriculture: 1994 Year in Review
William O. Bullock, Jr., Institute for Biotechnology Information,
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. "NBIAP News Report." U.S. Department of Agriculture (January 1995)
Nineteen ninety-four was a turbulent year for the biotechnology industry. The
industry's largest sector, biopharmaceuticals, was hit with a number
of clinical trial setbacks and failures, and investors began to
question the worthiness of their high risk investments in
biotechnology in general (1). In fact, three of the top ten worst
performing stocks for 1994 on the NASDAQ market (based on percentage
change from 1993) were biotechnology stocks: Telios Pharmaceuticals,
MicroProbe, and Alpha 1 Biomedicals (2). Although each of these three
companies are focused on therapeutic development, agricultural
biotechnology companies may have been hurt by the pharmaceutical
sector, and did not fare much better.
Here is a sample of some select ag-biotechnology company stocks and
their percentage price change during 1994 (3):
Crop Genetics International (-82%)
AgriDyne Technologies (-71%)
DNA Plant Technology (-36%)
As was noted in the Agricultural Biotechnology Notes section from the
August 1994 NBIAP News Report, the movement of agricultural
biotechnology stocks closely mimics that of the biopharmaceutical
sector. This is likely due to the large swings in individual
biotechnology company stock prices (usually therapeutic firms) that
pull the entire biotechnology industry with them, economic conditions
that impact all stocks, and a lack of sophistication and understanding
of the technologies by some investors.
In addition to the poor market showing by agricultural biotechnology
companies, a number of other notable developments took place in 1994
related to the agricultural biotechnology sector. Some of these
- Monsanto's bovine somatotropin (BST) went on the market in
February 1994, creating controversy and litigation over its economic
impact and product labeling provisions.
- Calgene's genetically engineered
Flavr Savr (TM) tomato was approved
by the FDA in April 1994, and went on the market in the United States.
It was also issued patent protection by the European Union.
- The USDA (APHIS) approved discontinuation of regulation under
the Plant Pest Act of some genetically engineered agricultural
products, including BXN (TM) cotton (a herbicide-tolerant cotton),
Laurate Canola, the Flavr Savr
(TM) tomato (all developed by Calgene), and Monsanto's
- The NIH published revised guidelines for research involving
- The FDA developed proposed regulations that would establish a
mandatory premarket notification system for foods derived from
genetically modified plants.
- The German government eased its strict biotechnology
regulations, making it easier to conduct research and development
using genetic engineering. One area that this change may impact is
the number of field trials conducted in Germany, as only 2 field
release permits had been approved there between 1986 and 1992,
compared with 77 in France and 316 in the United States for that same
period. The European Union also worked toward easing permit
requirements for field tests of genetically engineered plants.
- The broad patent awarded to Agracetus in 1992, covering all
genetically engineered cotton varieties, came under scrutiny and was
considered for possible re-examination.
- The U.S. Patent Office requested comments on proposed changes in
patent protection rules for biological inventions.
The FDA found seven genetically engineered food plants safe, including
tomatoes from Zeneca Plant Science, DNAP Plant Technology, and
Monsanto; ZW-20 squash from Asgrow; insect-resistant potato and
herbicide-tolerant soybean from Monsanto; and herbicide-tolerant
cotton from Calgene. Although these food crops were deemed safe by
the FDA, they are also subject to approval by the USDA and/or the EPA.
In spite of the lack of confidence of investors in agricultural
biotechnology companies during 1994, one end-of-the-year forecast
predicts almost 30% average annual sales growth over the next ten
years of ag-biotech products, increasing from an estimated $130
million in 1994 to almost $1.5 billion in 2004 (4). Research
discoveries continue to evolve, and this, combined with breakthroughs
in ag-product commercialization and regulation in 1994, continue to
fuel optimism for the sector's future growth.
- Biotechnology in the U.S. Pharmaceutical Industry, The Institute
for Biotechnology Information, January 1995, pg. 5-23.
- Year-End Review of Markets and Finance, The Wall Street Journal,
Tuesday, January 3, 1995, pg. R4.
- The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, January 3, 1995, pg. R25-R30.
- Shamel, R.E., and M. Keough, 1994. Non-Medical Areas Expected to
Show the Fastest Growth in Biotechnology. Genetic Engineering News,
December 1994, pg. 11.
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