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Littleproud urges AWI to finalise agreement on sheep data analysis

Terry Sim, November 14, 2018

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud

AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation has been strongly encouraged by Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud to finalise an agreement with Meat & Livestock Australia on software licensing and Merino Lifetime Productivity Project data analysis.

For about 2.5 years, the two research and development corporations have been negotiating the terms for the inclusion of Merino Lifetime Productivity Project data into Sheep Genetics, and its national Merino genetic benchmarking service MERINOSELECT.

AWI ceded control of the MERINOSELECT database and of the data analysis software called OVIS when it withdrew from Sheep Genetics in 2016, leaving MLA as the sole funder. OVIS is needed to process data to generate genomic analysis for the MLP Project, which is managed by AWI in partnership with the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association and breeders.

The two RDCs are negotiating an agreement that would give AWI a research licence to utilise the analytical software engine OVIS for research and development purposes, with AWI contributing MLP data to Sheep Genetics under a separate agreement. However, an item of contention is an AWI request for a certain standard of operations and service delivery from Sheep Genetics.

Following a claim by former Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association chairman Tom Silcock last week that that the two bodies were indulging in “schoolyard bickering” and holding the industry to “ransom”, MLA said it was keen to see negotiations resolved quickly and AWI said it was confident an agreement will be reached.

Mr Littleproud said one of the 12 themes in the EY review was “more and better collaboration with other RDCs and research bodies for improved efficiency of research spending”.

“I strongly encourage AWI to get this sorted for the good of all wool growers around Australia,” Mr Littleproud said.

A ‘critical’ recommendation of the Ernst&Young performance and governance review of AWI was that it should develop a cross-RDC collaboration model as part of the long-term industry strategy, including detailing the definition and role of cross-RDC collaboration (e.g. MLA) and ownership of IP. This should be developed through extensive consultation with levy payers and implemented by 30 April 2019.

OVIS IP and DNA service negotiations progressing – MLA

MLA’s Hamish Chandler

MLA genetics program manager Hamish Chandler said it was important that producers understood the difference between the intellectual property involved with the OVIS analytical software, the MLP Project results and genomic DNA test results.

“They are different things and there are different people responsible for them.”

“In terms of the discussions between MLA and AWI around the use of MLP data, there are two things we are trying to do,” he said.

“One is, AWI would like the right to use OVIS analytical software for research purposes, to do their own analysis of MLP data.

“At the same time, we are talking about how we make sure MLP data gets included in the MERINOSELECT evaluation, so that we can deliver higher accuracy breeding values back to producers, and we can use that information to continually keep upgrading OVIS over time for the benefit of industry,” Mr Chandler said.

“So there are two different parts to this discussion as it is and both of those are progressing.

“MLA is and always has been supportive of MLP data coming into MERINOSELECTand providing a research license to OVIS and we have been proactively working towards making this happen.”

Mr Chandler also responded to Mr Silcock’s comments that the Sheep CRC regarded the genomic analysis created by OVIS as an IP product, and that breeders by seeking the analysis “sign away their claim to the genomic IP.”

Mr Chandler said the Sheep CRC has obviously had a significant role in the development of genomics.

“We’ve partnered with them over a long period of time and in terms of the current use of genomics, that is all built into the OVIS analytical software at this point in time, so IP ownership in that context isn’t an issue.”

Mr Chandler said it was “not correct” that breeders sign away their claim to genomic IP by seeking the OVIS analysis.

“I think some of the concern has come from when you send a DNA sample off to a lab, who owns those test results that come back from the lab?

“To this point in time, the Sheep CRC’s has been retailing that and they’ve retained ownership of that IP and given breeders a licence to use it – it doesn’t mean that if you put that data into the Sheep Genetics evaluations you lose your IP,” he said.

“Sheep Genetics will use that data to derive breeding values – it’s a matter of who owns the raw test results that come back.

“To this point in time, the Sheep CRC has been managing that, they’ve retained ownership of that so that they can use it for research and development and they can develop a robust system,” Mr Chandler said.

“They’ve done their job and we are now at the stage of transitioning the genomics database management from the Sheep CRC to MLA.

“As part of that, we are opening that pipeline up so that more genomics service providers can be involved in that delivery,” Mr Chandler said.

“So it is going to be more of a commercial decision; ‘which service provider do I choose to extract DNA and provide the genomic test results, what’s the ownership arrangement in a commercial context and then how we get those genotypes into the Sheep Genetics evaluation and run it?’

“That’s where we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of transition plans to change that from Sheep CRC to MLA Sheep Genetics, so that we can roll that out as a much broader service.”

Mr Chandler said issues relating to Mr Silcock’s concern in relation to the IP and data negotiations stopping competition for DNA pedigree services were being dealt with separately.

“That is well-advanced and will be opening up to a much more commercially-orientated marketplace over coming months.”

Status of current AWI-MLA MLP negotiations

Mr Chandler conceded it had taken a long time to get to the current state of negotiations between AWI and MLA on OVIS use and MLP data analysis.

But he said significant progress had been made in negotiating how AWI had access to OVIS for research, in getting MLP data into MERINOSELECT for evaluation, and ensure producers had access to cost-effective genomics services and getting that into genetic evaluation without concerns about ownership of test result IP.

In relation to AWI’s request for request for a certain standard of operations and service delivery from Sheep Genetics, Mr Chandler said discussions have focussed on how SG delivered an appropriate service to industry.

“Sheep Genetics has been providing MERINOSELECT services to industry in its current form since 2005, it has been running the MERINOSELECT evaluation twice a month every month for many years, so I think in terms of providing an adequate service and reporting detail back to industry, there shouldn’t be too much concern there.

“This is not a service agreement, but a way of using research dat for industry benefit, and this is where there have been significant roadblocks put up by AWI,” he said.

“I think AWI would like other reporting criteria and so on used, but I think our reporting criteria is pretty well established and we can provide the necessary transparency, so I don’t think there should be too much standing in our way.

“I can say there has not been an agreement signed by AWI that has been delivered to MLA.

“We have exchanged terms for an agreement, those terms have been developed into an agreement and we are currently finalising that agreement,” Mr Chandler said.

“I believe that we are pretty close to a resolution.

“In the meantime, MLA remains committed  to continuing to fund Sheep Genetics for the benefit of the industry.

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