OpenMTA is a set of legal frame-work that allows researchers, across academia and industry, to share biological materials with minimal cost and legal red-tape. The agreement, which has been designed by various institutes/companies in the UK (including Norwich-based JIC, EI and Tropic Bioscience) in partnership with San Francisco-based BioBricks, could kickstart an explosion of innovation in BioTech and Life Sciences.

Through John Innes Centre, Earlham Institute and Tropic Bioscience, the Norwich Research Park was a strong contributor to the creation of the OpenMTA master agreement.

Biological materials include modified genes, mutated bacteria and plant seeds with engineered traits. These materials may have highly desirable functions that have taken considerable time and money to produce. Several MTAs have been released over the past 30 years allowing researchers in academia or charities to more easily share these materials across institutes. There is one glaring issue with these MTAs: they do not allow commercialisation of the material, even if no-one can make a financial gain from it. This means that if a company wants a biological material as part of creating a product, they either have to re-make it from scratch or pay expensive royalty fees. For large, well-funded companies, royalty fees are a drop in the ocean. However for SMEs, prohibitive royalty fees force re-creation of existing materials, causing a drain on already stretched resources. This resource-sink can be catastrophic to a fledgling business.

Complex biological materials, such as genetically engineered genes or seeds, can be shared and commercialised using the OpenMTA frame-work.

“We hope to see the OpenMTA enable an international flow of non-proprietary tools between academic, government, NGO and industry researchers, to be used, reused and expanded upon to develop new tools and innovations.”

Dr Colette Matthewman

Programme Manager, Open-Plant Synthetic Biology Research Centre

The OpenMTA looks to plug this sink by making materials produced by researchers legally available for others to use, modify and commercialise with minimal cost and legal red tape.  The agreement hopes to improve collaboration across all stages of R&D, improve efficiency of R&D by giving SMEs access to materials and to make business adoption of innovation far easier. This is particularly helpful in New Anglia, where only half of businesses are actively innovating despite having world-leading research institutes in the biosciences. Dr Colette Matthewman, Programme Manager for the OpenPlant Synthetic Biology Research Centre, John Innes Centre, Norwich, believes the OpenMTA will allow sharing of materials on a global scale: “We hope to see the OpenMTA enable an international flow of non-proprietary tools between academic, government, NGO and industry researchers, to be used, reused and expanded upon to develop new tools and innovations.” In this sense, the OpenMTA may well be the first step to true global collaboration.

The human population is rapidly reaching critical mass – by 2050 there will be 10 billion mouths to feed, bodies to heal and lifestyles to fuel. Without significant innovation in the bioeconomy these challenges cannot be overcome. Now more than ever, it’s time to stop re-inventing the wheel and start saving the world.