Inspired by the open source software movement and the opensharing of knowledge and discoveries that occurred during the Human GenomeProject, Brian Pollock and Troy Moore founded Huntsville, Ala.-based OpenBiosystems in 2001 with a simple idea: they wanted to empower researchers ofall kinds by providing open access to the tools and materials only largerorganizations and companies could afford. Chief Editor Chris Anderson recentlyspoke with CTO and co-founder Moore about the company's business model.
DDN: What were the inspirations for starting OpenBiosystems?
Moore: I thinkthe biggest problem we have as an industry is dealing with intellectualproperty and this is not a problem that hasn't been solved in other industries.But in biotech it seems like everyone has the Golden Goose. No matter what kindof patent people hold, everyone believes that is the most valuable patent forothers' research.
So our approach is to try to work with patent holders andtell them that we value their intellectual property and they should receive areturn on it, but they [need to] be realistic about it. The only way a patentis going to be worth anything, is if you enable people with it. We take in alot of licenses and try to work with the patent holders so they get a fairreturn on it.
DDN: What about Open Biosystems' pricing strategy for themarket?
Moore: I want itto be something that every bench scientist can use. For instance with RNAiproducts, we've tried to take the approach that anybody at NIH on theirbenchtop should be able to do a genome screen. I think we are still a littleway away from that right now. But we are getting closer. Now for a couplethousand dollars people can screen several hundred to small thousands of genes.Our goal is to get the whole genome on their desktop. Just like a microarray.It used to be that you spent several thousand dollars just to buy the chips todo the whole genome, now it is much more affordable. Anyone at NIH can go andscreen for gene expression on the whole genome and that is where we want totake RNAi.
DDN: What are the pricing obstacles that in your way todoing this?
Moore: Well,right now it is a gene-by-gene approach. Everyone sells individual genes. Weare working on ways of multiplexing it, so your price per reaction comes waydown. You will see that coming to market in 2007. It is a mixture of severaldifferent technologies and several different licenses to make it happen. It isbased on the technology developed by theYeast Deletion Consortium, pioneered the idea that you can use molecularbarcodes to look at very complex pools of , in their case yeast. Some of ourcollaborators in developing the short hairpins have been yeast biologists, inprevious lives and had the foresight to suggest that we build this into the systemfrom the get-go.
But these are early days and there will be severalpublications that accompany the launch of the product and it reminds of theearly days of microarrays. But there are lots os interesting things you can dowith it and those things will evolve over the coming one or two years.
DDN: Are there any other companies you compete against workingunder your business model?
Moore: No. Atleast none that I know of. Obviously all the tool providers have to deal withintellectual property and they go out and license different technologies. Ithink the difference is really in the rationale for doing that. I think forsome of the bigger players it is more defensive. They are looking at it as ifthey create a big market, they don't want to get sued. Ours is a little moreoffensive. We want to put these things together because we know that ourcustomers would be limited if all is not already taken care of up front. And wewant to be as solid and clear. We do have to offer licenses to people wherethey have to sign and take a separate license from somebody. I want those termsclearly displayed form the get-go, so there is no ambiguity, they look at onepiece of paper and they can say yes or no, they can take the license and it'snot going to be a six-month negotiation with them.
DDN: Your current strength is in genetic materials, can yousee a time when Open Biosystems might branch out into other materials?
Yes. Our clear strength is in managing genome collections ofmaterial, genetic content. I don't think we will go far afield of that. Butthere is a lot of very exciting things developing in the community that showswhat we need to do the next round of, understanding how genes are regulated,how microRNAs are regulating different genes, so there is quite a bit ofopportunity there. But you won't see us going into the restriction enzymemarket or the DNA polymerase market, those are well serviced. The geneticcontent is niche we have found that we belong in. u