Thuy Nguyen _Exec Interview - Cathie Martin and Jonathan


Feb 20, 2013 (5 years and 3 months ago)


Thuy Nguyen

AGI London 2011

Executive Interview with
Professor Cathie Martin and Professor Jonathan Jones,
Norfolk Plant Sciences

Overview of Company

The John Innes Center
The Sainsbury Laboratory
Norfolk Plant Sciences

The John Innes Center (JIC)
is an independent, international center for the research of
plant sciences and microbiology. Through innovative research, the Center’s mission is
to develop knowledge to train scientist for the future and to apply the research to benefit
agriculture, huma
n health, and the environment.

There are over 800 staff members who are mainly scientist or research students
performing studies on a wide range of disciplines in the biological and chemical sciences
area such areas as c
ell biology, genetics
biochemistry, chemistry,
and molecular


registered as a charity and

is publically funded since its inception 100 years
ago. Annually the Center contributes
170 million to the UK economy. The majority of
their funding is won from various
funding agencies in the UK and worldwide. In open
competition, they are successfully won and are receiving funding from over 40 different

As an institute of
he Biotechnology and Biological Sc
iences Research
Council (BBSRC), they also rece
ive grant
aid from them.

JIC feels that it’s important to share their research with society. They typically will
present their findings at scientific conferences and publish them in scientific journals.
They do not directly create viable commercial pr
oducts from their research but they
make their research available to those that are able to develop them into useful

JIC also has a newsletter available for non
scientists and on their website.
Communications is very critical in their pro
cess and they are

exceptional in knowledge
sharing amongst

other scientists.
JIC hosts several organizations at their Center
including The Sainsbury Laboratory


at their Norwich location.

Although located on the JIC site, they are a

independent laboratory.
The Sainsbury

is a joint venture between t
he Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the University
f East Anglia, the BBSRC and JIC

Founded in 1989, is in most known for their
research in
molecular plant pathology and genetic

The TSL is also a charity with over 70
scientists and staff. TSL favors more daring
research rather than areas where others can equally perform. They focus on microbes
and viruses interactions with plants.

TSL research is typically placed in the publi
c domain for knowledge sharing but they will
also commercialize their research by using Plant Bioscience Ltd to license their

Gatsby currently funds approximately 75% of TSL income with the remainder coming
from winning grants and contracts fr
om public and private organizations. TSL prides
themselves of not only their research but also their ability to provide excellent training for
their scientists.

Formed in 2007,
Norfolk Plant Sciences (NPS) is also located at JIC. Co
founded by
Cathie Martin and Jonathan Jones. NPS’s objective is to create new types of
foods that increase the levels of health
promoting nutrients derived from fruit and
The spin
off company (NPS) was developed to exploit the
research already
carried out at TSL and JIC. NPS’s primary focus is to commercialize their current
research in tomatoes for the consumer market.

What yo
u should know about NPS

NPS’s is currently working on discoveries associated to
growing tomatoes with
elevated levels of polyphenols that
may have health benefits to consumers. Their preliminary

on lab mice has

extended the lifespan of cancer
prone mice by 30%.

ir primary research has been concentrated on

against chronic diseases su
ch as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and high
blood pressure. These studies resulted in high flav
onol and anthocyanin tomatoes that
taste like normal grocery bought varietals but appear to be deep purple in color.

By genetically modifying these tomatoes with genes from snapdragon
flowers, they were
able to add the antioxidants anthocyanin to the fruit. The same antioxidants can be
found in blueberries
, blackcurrants,

blackberries, which are known to have great
health benefits

The key research findings have now been published in the journal
Nature Biotechnology.

Their findings can also extend to other crops such as blood oranges that can be grown
year round without the special climate requirements of current va

Due to limited funds, NPS is considering marketing these tomatoes as juices on the
Intranet to avoid as much regulatory

approvals needed as possible.
Their business
challenge in Europe is that genetically modified (GM) foods have received negat
press in that region. These food products are also required to go through a rigorous
safety assessment before they can be marketed in the EU. Even in the US, there is
strong reluctance in foods produced by transgenic methods.

They currently do not ha
ve a Marketing Strategy or a fully developed Go
To Market
Strategy. Their initial thoughts are to use the Intranet to deliver their products direct
consumer plan to avoid the potential risk
averse food distribution channels.

NPS’s main focus remains
on the research of these tomatoes and they do not expect the
products to be commercially viable for a few more years. The lead scientists on the
purple tomato research are Professor Jonathan Jones and Professor Cathie Martin.
They are both board members
and provid
e the scientific inputs for NPS.

Executive Profiles

Professor Catherine (Cathie) Rosemary


is a Gro
Leader at the John Innes C
enter since 1983.
She is a
Professor at
the University of East Anglia
and also


a chair as Niels Bohr
visiting p
rofessor in the Faculty of Life Science, University of
Copenhagen, Denmark.
She is a
Professor a
t the University of East
Anglia and holds seven patents.

Professor Martin’s
fundamental research h
as focused on cellular
specialization. She

was the first to identify genes regulating cell
shaping in plants

with a
particular interest

in cellular specialization

and how these traits are used by different plants for pollinator attraction.

Professor Martin is also the first woman and
first non
American to be the
of The Plant Cell
the highest
ranking international journal for research on plants
sponsored by the American Society of Plant Biologists.
She has also
level tex
tbook called Plant Biol

Her has
First Class Hon
ors in Natural Sciences at
University of Cambridge

and a Ph.D.
in Biochemistry at
University of Cambridge

Professor Jonathan

is a Senior Scientist at The
Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich. He uses molecular and genetic
approaches to study disease resistance in plants.
His leading
research is in
plant/microbe interactions
Jonathan received his
PhD from Cambridge University in
1980 and completed his post
doctorate work at Harvard.

Professor Jones was one of the first recruits at TSL, where he is
currently the Head of Laboratory. He has co
founded two

companies; Mendel Biotechnology, to carry out genomics
experiments to discover and exploit key regulators of crop productivity, and Norfolk Plant
Sciences Ltd, to combine health promoting traits and disease resistance traits in potato
and tomato.

r Jones was elected a Professor at the University of East Anglia in 1997, a
member of EMBO in 1998, and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2003.

currently participates in the Royal Society working group on food security.



tly what phase are you in?

Professor Cathie Martin:

We are in the testing phase. We’ve had very positive
results for the couple of science methods in terms of extending lifespan of
prone mice and that they act as anti
inflammatory for gas

Then those studies will be moved to pilot humans studies in the
next year. We are also developing other varietals so there will be a similar
approach for those.


What form will these tomatoes be for commercial use?

Professor Jonat
hon Jones:

We are still discussing it right now. We would love to
sell them in the store but obviously the regulatory things are needed. The
positive thing about having them in juice form is that there are no seeds in the
juices, which reduces the need f
or the GM method we are using gets out.

We would love to have viral marketing through the internet where people can just
email us and with credit card details and we would mail them bottles.

Professor Cathie Martin:

We are hoping eventually fresh tomatoe
s but also in
processed tomato products. In the short
term it will be marketed as a juice
product with health benefits.


How is this different then other genetically modified (GM) foods?

Professor Jonathon Jones:

There are currently no GM tomatoes
in the
market in
the US. There’s some squash and sweet corn that people can buy in the store.
But most of the GM products is mainly are soybeans which are processed before
they get to consumers. Also GM products now are mainly to help control disease
and pests

to help produce more.

Professor Cathie Martin:

Most of the GM products now are just producer traits.
They are not making a better product for the consumer, where as ours has
consumer advantages.




Professor Cathie Martin:

It’s easy to do. It
’s also the biggest vegetable crop in
the world and has the most penetration t
hat most people eat the most of. In the
US and EU, approximately 25 million tons of tomatoes were purchased with a
value of approximately $10 billion.

Professor Jonathon Jones:

t’s quite a lot of money to invest to take the tomato
branches to the stage where we can sell them to consumers so it has a higher
chance of getting a return then if it was a butternut squash.