Natural Products Research Partnership with BIOTEC

Partnership between Novartis and BIOTEC established in 2005 to transfer technological know-how on the isolation of actinomycetes and gram negative bacteria.
Academia or research institute 1
  • Isolation and characterization of new bacteria as producers of new natural products.
  • Identification of natural products for drug discovery and development.
  • Capacity building at BIOTEC in innovative natural products microbiology, synthetic biology and chemistry.

What are the health needs and challenges?

Better treatment of disease demands constant research and development of new drugs. To maximize effectiveness, this research must be global, but many drug research institutes in the developing world lack capacity and expertise. This partnership contributes to the identification of starting points in general drug discovery and development in diseases of high unmet medical need, with a particular focus on actinomycetes bacteria and novel gram negative bacterial species largely underexplored for their biosynthetic capacities.

Partnership activities and how they address needs and challenges

The partnership between Novartis and BIOTEC was established in 2005 to transfer technological know-how on the isolation of actinomycetes and gram negative bacteria. Novartis experts in natural products sciences educated BIOTEC staff on-site and give technical training in the use of modern instruments and in the cultivation, isolation, and purification of natural products.

BIOTEC scientists are also trained in microbiology, chemical profiling and high throughput drug screening at the Novartis laboratories in Switzerland. Only recently was it agreed to offer training opportunities for bacterial genome sequencing, genome mining and genetic engineering to integrate these particular technologies at BIOTEC being a key driver in synthetic biology. Elaboration of screening libraries based on microbial extracts and pure natural products are useful to identify novel mechanisms of action to develop new therapeutic approaches for a broad portfolio of indications.

This partnership draws on the complementary expertise of both parties. BIOTEC’s expertise lies in the knowledge of certain microorganisms, ranging from collection, identification, preservation to culturing conditions, and in the initial testing of fungal extracts against a panel of eukaryotic test strains to identify bioactive strains. Novartis has expertise in the discovery, characterization, development and worldwide commercialization of compounds derived from both synthetic and natural-product sources. The partnership aims to find potential use of microorganisms, and natural compounds derived from microorganisms, as sources for innovative medicines.
In addition to research collaboration, capacity building is a focus of this partnership through the internships of BIOTEC scientists in the research laboratories at Novartis Switzerland and through lab courses and seminars of Novartis experts at BIOTEC.

Cooperation is managed by a Joint Steering Committee (JSC), co-chaired by BIOTEC and Novartis. Through regular meetings of the JSC, scientists share research results and discuss research plans in order to make informed decisions.

Lessons learned

In a bioprospecting partnership the capacity building aspect is an evolving process, as new research results are constantly influencing the scope and direction of joint research activities. This demands high flexibility and trust from both parties.

Over the past years, Novartis and BIOTEC scientists have worked closely in several new research initiatives. This partnership has been a long and continuing success and I believe that this is based on true commitment from both sides.
Dr. Kanyawim Kirtikara
Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi and former Executive Director of BIOTEC
Results and milestones

The number of extract and pure natural products for general drug screening has significantly increased, giving very positive prospects for the partnership’s continued success.

Especially microbiological publications on the description of new bacterial species underpin the operational and scientific progress of the partnership. The description of substances with antibiotic activities against microbial pathogens bears the potential to identify new targets for further scientific investigations.

Geographic Reach
  • Europe
  • South-East Asia
See Where
Disease Area
Target Population
  • Children
  • Youth
  • Men
  • Women
  • Elderly
  • People with low incomes
  • Marginalized/indigenous people
Partner organizations
Academia or research institute

National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), Thailand