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Model Biotech Materials Sharing Agreement Unveiled

Lab jars and beakers

(jdn2001cn0, Pixabay)

15 Oct. 2018. A document with standard legal language for terms and conditions of sharing biotechnology materials is now available for academic and industry research labs. The Open Materials Transfer Agreement, or OpenMTA, appears as a commentary in the 11 October issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology.

Materials transfer agreements, or MTAs, are legal documents designed to encourage sharing of lab materials, such as biological specimen samples, and their associated data. These documents contain language ostensibly to protect the interests of the respective labs and researchers, but in some cases, they become too complex and restrictive, adding more time and costs into starting up a collaboration. Many of these documents were first written in the 1990s, before the web became ubiquitous and much of today’s large-scale genomic research began. Even with a standard template proposed by National Institutes of Health, many institutions continue to write their own MTAs, forcing labs eager to collaborate into protracted negotiations.

OpenMTA aims to provide a simple standardized tool to encourage sharing of biological materials, including their redistribution and commercialization. The document offers provisions promoting greater access to labs’ materials collections — e.g., patient blood or tissue samples, DNA specimens, and engineered seed samples — by removing fees for sharing those materials other than preparation and shipping costs. And when those materials are shared, originating labs may request attribution and reports in return for that access.

In addition, materials gained under OpenMTA may be reused by the receiving lab without restriction. Moreover, the document does not restrict the parties from redistributing the materials, either as sales or donations, in their original states or modified, as well as part of derivative works or in a collection. And OpenMTA applies to all types of labs without restrictions: academic, government, industry, or community labs.

OpenMTA, say its proponents, is expected to encourage translation of biotechnology research into marketable products and services by removing unneeded restrictions and providing a predictable template that reduces costs of collaboration. The agreement is also expected to ease collaborations across boundaries, particularly among smaller labs and those in less well-resourced regions.

OpenMTA is a product of BioBricks Foundation in San Francisco, an organization that aims to open up biotechnologyto make products of the science more widely available, and OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre, an initiative in the U.K. of John Innes Centre, Earlham Institute, and University of Cambridge. In June 2017, Science & Enterprise reported on a BioBricks program with a biotechnology company to produce 10,000 synthetic genes made available at no cost to researchers.

The document’s developers believe OpenMTA will change the way many labs interact with each other. “In five years’ time my ideal is for the OpenMTA to be the default option for the transfer of research materials,” says Linda Kahl, Senior Counsel for Biobricks Foundation and first author of the Nature Biotechnology article in a John Innes Center statement. “Instead of automatically placing restrictions on materials, people will ask whether restrictions on use and redistribution are appropriate and instead use the OpenMTA to promote sharing and innovation.”

Kahl and colleagues tell more about OpenMTA in the following video.

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