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The ATCC Story: A Ninety Year Celebration

Apr 28, 2016 at 12:00 PM ET

Abstract

ATCC celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015 and in recognition of that milestone this presentation tells the remarkable story of ATCC’s evolution as an organization and its contribution to developments in life sciences for nearly a century. Established in 1925 as the American Type Culture Collection by scientists for scientists, it has become an international resource for life science research and development. Dependent on financial subsidies for more than 75 years, ATCC has since achieved independence as a fully self-sustaining non-profit organization. ATCC is now investing in research and development, and in 2012 was able to establish and fully fund the Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI). This is the story of that amazing transformation and the role of ATCC in the evolution of the life sciences.

Key Points

  • ATCC was founded by scientists for scientists; it is a science-based organization
  • ATCC is now fully self-sustainable after dependence on government subsidies and private financial support for more than 75 years
  • ATCC contributes to global science and health initiatives by providing biological resources and related services

Watch The Presentation

Presenter

Frank Simione, headshot.

Frank Simione, MS

Director, Standards, Standards Resource Center, ATCC

Mr. Simione is currently advisor to the ATCC President and CEO, and Director of Standards for the ATCC Standards Resource Center. He has been with ATCC for 41 years and was a member of the senior management team for 26 years. His previous management roles at ATCC have included oversight of operations, government contracts, compliance and safety, patent deposits, workshops and training, biocollections, and standards. Part of his current activities includes documenting ATCC’s 90 year history.

Questions and Answers

How can I order from ATCC if my region does not have an authorized distributor?

ATCC can ship biological material directly to most countries around the world including many that are not covered by an official ATCC distributor. Please contact our Customer Service Department and they would be happy to help you with your ordering and shipping requirements. A list of ATCC’s distributors can also be found on our website.

How did ATCC retain continued support from NIH for the next 30 years?

NIH recognized the importance of supporting ATCC’s collections to continue the acquisition, authentication, production, and distribution of biomedically relevant cultures. An agreement was reached whereby NIH could provide input on accessions and distribution fees.

How did ATCC’s new business model come about and remain compatible with the mission?

ATCC’s leadership team under the direction of our Chairman and CEO, Dr. Raymond H. Cypess, DVM, PhD, envisioned a new business model predicated on adding value to ATCC’s vast collection of products, in tandem with cost reduction and reinvestment in our portfolio. Over the years, ATCC hassuccessfully implemented this model while holding true to our mission directives, which are to acquire, authenticate, preserve, develop, standardize, and distribute biological materials and information for the advancement and application of scientific knowledge.

How did the concept of licensing of ATCC cultures for commercial use come about?

Commercial users of ATCC materials were leveraging ATCC’s added value in producing and developing their products for commercial purposes. ATCC also recognized that revenue received from commercial use licenses could be used to support the collections of microorganisms and cells not supported by user fees, which were previously supported by government subsidies. Therefore, ATCC began distributing ATCC materials under the terms of a Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) that allowed its customersto use ATCC materialsforresearch use, butrequired them to obtain a license to use ATCC materials for a commercial use. Additionally, with input from the academic community, ATCC developed a deposit agreement that allows the depositing institution to decide, at the time of deposit of a new material, if they desire for ATCC to offer a turnkey service and negotiate the commercial use licenses with the customer, or if they desire to negotiate the commercial use licenses directly with the customer. ATCC will share a portion of the product income and licensing income with the depositing institution.

How does ATCC maintain its status as a non‐profit organization?

ATCC maintains its non‐profit organization status by growing our assets for re‐investment back into our business, strongly supporting mission‐focused activities, and actively competing for federal contracts and commercial service opportunities. ATCC further leverages its financial assets in support of activities such as founding and funding the Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI), establishing partnerships with other organizations such as the Institute for Life Science Entrepreneurship (ILSE), and supporting researchers through funding opportunities.

How were the early samples preserved in the absence of refrigeration or freeze drying?

Prior to 1940, cultures available from ATCC were not preserved but were maintained via subculture. Subculturing biological materials over time can lead to genetic and phenotypic drift and also increases the potential for contamination. Further, the effort required to maintain cultures in an actively growing state limits the size and diversity of the collection. In 1940, 15 years after ATCC wasfounded, freeze‐drying was used to preserve cultures. Nearly 20 yearslater, cryopreservation and liquid nitrogen storage was introduced at ATCC. Since then, our laboratory experts are actively using and constantly refining these methods with a wide array of biological specimens.

Why did ATCC create a workshop program and why was it not continued?

In keeping with ATCC’s mission, the workshop program was created to support our scientific constituency’s interest in learning more about our techniques for preserving and authenticating materials. This program also provided ATCC with an avenue to showcase many of our products and services to attendees. After our relocation to Manassas, Virginia, in 1998, space limitations restricted our ability to create dedicated teaching laboratories; however, ATCC and George Mason University (GMU) continued to operate a joint workshop program for a number of years.

Why did ATCC create the Global Biological Standards Institute (GBSI)?

ATCC has been a premier global biological materials resource for 90 years, providing products and services manufactured under strict ISO quality certification and accreditation. We recognize the need to meticulously characterize, preserve, and maintain these materials in a manner that permits reproducibility of results across time and among laboratories around the world, i.e., standardization. This led ATCC to create the GBSI, with whom ATCC works very closely to assist in the development and delivery of biological standards, both material reference standards and written consensus standards.

Why did ATCC move out of Georgetown University and become an independent organization?

There is speculation that Georgetown University wanted to retain ATCC and make it a part of the university. Lore Rogers envisioned that ATCC would better serve science as an independent organization and he may have envisioned that the support from Georgetown might have been reduced or eliminated in later years.  

Why did the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reduce its support for ATCC in the early 1970s?

It is likely that the limitations and constraints of the federal budget at that time led to a reduction in support for ATCC. ATCC as a biorepository was primarily focused on the collection and preservation of biological materials in support of all areas of science, not just biomedical, which is the primary focus of NIH. The suggestion was, therefore, to reduce dependence on government subsidies and garner more support from the scientific research community.