Reinventing the wheel for Material Transfer Agreements

As an industry reliant on innovation and technology, it seems obvious that technology transfer would work to simplify many of its own practices and procedures through technology, namely automated systems. Yet often, we catch ourselves relying on age-old processes that take multiple individuals and significant time. This is not necessarily by choice, rather due to a lack of availability, or reluctance to embrace change.


One particular area CTTC has spent countless hours investigating is the automation of MTAs (Material Transfer Agreements). These are fairly routine transfers of materials from one institution to another that support and enhance the receiving institution’s research. In the current fiscal year, CTTC has already processed more than 600 MTAs, and we expect to reach well over the 800-mark. That’s on pace for a new record – for the 4th consecutive year. When you factor in the different types of MTAs – some require original documentation, others cross international lines – there is often an extensive amount of data entry required with the transfer of research materials from one institution to the next. The paperwork for a single MTA can take anywhere from two days to two weeks to process.


So why don’t we automate?


We’re working on it.


CTTC, along with dozens of other academic research institutions across the U.S., has registered to participate in the recently-launched National Institutes of Health automated MTA system (known as TAD).  By the end of April, all MTAs between Vanderbilt and NIH will be automatically processed through this online system. During this same time frame, we expect to have completed the build out of an automated system for materials being sent from Vanderbilt to other not-for-profit institutions. This will eliminate all delays associated with staff review and processing of outgoing MTAs. A final step will be to substantially automate the processing of materials coming into Vanderbilt from other not-for-profit institutions. While we cannot completely automate this aspect (as we are generally using other institutions’ agreements), we can automate the majority of the processing, and can empower the faculty researchers to control the processing time for such incoming MTAs. This final phase requires much more customization and build out, but we have our sights set on a late-summer launch. All of this will significantly reduce the time it takes to process MTAs at Vanderbilt.


The adage “why reinvent the wheel” is quite the contrary in our case. We are reinventing the wheel. And we’re excited about it.


For more information on CTTC Material Transfer Agreements, click here.