Today's Federal Register carries a notice from the National Institutesof Health (NIH) inviting comment on a proposed "Uniform BiologicalMaterial Transfer Agreement" (UBMTA) form. The standardized, one-text-fits-all "treaty," as its backers call their document, facilitatesaccess by scientists in not-for-profit institutions to research intendedproducts _ from viruses to monoclonal antibodies to transgenicanimals _ provided to them by academic or industrial sources.Put together by the Association of University Technology Managers(AUTM), the treaty will be formally adopted by the NIH Office ofTechnology Transfer after a 30-day comment period, which ends July20, 1994.As Lita Nelson, director of technology licensing at the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology told BioWorld Today, "The NIH will use it ontheir materials transfer agreements, so we won't have to go through theridiculous paperwork whenever we want to get a cell line from them.""It's our general policy on all of our biological materials," Nelson said,"that they will be transferred without cost to other not-for-profit ornon-commercial use, and we try to keep the agreements just as simpleand trivial as we can, based on that."She added that this MIT sharing policy is purely voluntary. "Thematerials are ours. We can stop other people from using them. Wedon't have to transfer them. So we're doing right by doing good -- orvice versa."Nelson stressed that the founders of AUTM's treaty form are JoyceBrinton at Harvard University and Sandra Shotwell of Oregon HealthSciences University. NIH coordinated their undertaking withrepresentatives of academia and industry.A spokesman at Harvard University's Office for Sponsored Researchtold BioWorld Today that the materials transfer form "works out someof the intellectual property issues in advance. It allows biotechcompanies to provide university-based researchers with some of theircell lines, or clones, or whatever. For example in the past Harvard gotmaterials from Genetics Institute, Inc." under the UBMTA.Two-Way TransfersAt Harvard Medical School's Office of Technology Licensing andIndustry-Sponsored Research, the licensing director, Nina Green, toldBioWorld Today: "We've given materials to companies ranging fromDupont and Johnson & Johnson to Genentech. We tend to send outmore transgenic animals than we license in."In the opposite direction, she went on, "Novel growth factors tend to bethe materials that come from industry to academia, and which we'vehad the most problems receiving."Green, also a prime mover of the AUTM treaty, explained that "whereit may break down is that the companies supplying these reagents arevery clear on the fact that they are proprietary to them. So if we took avery novel growth factor, and all the work had not been established, Idon't think we're going to see such companies as Genentech orAmgen, Chiron or Xymogenetics, or whoever, giving us thesematerials under UBMTA."But she hastened to add, "They will still give us the materials, butcarefully negotiated," case by case. A few items, such as antibiotics areprovided in quantity by companies accustomed to giving them toacademic centers, "UBMTA will work really well for things that areclose to, or actually in, commercial production."Because Harvard doesn't delay publication of its research in order toreceive material transfers, Green observed, "other institutions havereceived materials with a faster turnaround than we have."Fine Print You Needn't ReadNelson explained that "the reason we started calling it a `treaty' isbecause it is not compulsory. It only says, `Most of the time, this ishow we're going to do it.' That obviates the need to read the uniformlanguage's fine print for each transaction. Like a standard lease form,you don't sneak in a few words to change it one way or the other. It'seither standard, or you tell someone it's different."The treaty wording deals with provider and recipient responsibilitiesfor such aspects of transferred material as progeny and unmodifiedderivatives of the original biologicals; patenting, licensing andcommercializing of these by recipient; restricted use for clinical trials.[Editor's Note: For more information, fax a request to UBMTA at:(301) 402-0220.]

-- David N. Leff Science Editor

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