As the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease in 2019) pandemic continues to unfold, faculty from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are on the front lines combatting the fast-moving virus. But with research and discovery happening at a rapid pace, how can these researchers and scientists share critical research materials fast enough to develop and test drug therapies for the virus as quickly as possible?
Material transfer agreements, or MTAs, play a significant role in furthering research across universities and industries. These agreements are designed to govern the transfer of tangible research materials between universities when the recipient intends to use it for their own research purposes. Although most of the general public may not be aware of MTAs, the agreements and the teams that execute them are essential for making scientific progress possible.
At the UNC Office of Technology Commercialization, Licensing Manager Carmen Melvin and Licensing Fellow Nate Whitman spearhead efforts related to make sure MTAs are processed quickly so that important research can keep pace with scientific needs.
“The main goal of MTAs is to help facilitate the transfer of materials between institutions, academic researchers, and industry,” says Melvin. “These agreements are critical to getting the materials out there to further research for the greater good.”
Whitman works closely with professor Ralph Baric’s lab at the Gillings School of Global Public Health. The William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor with the Department of Epidemiology, and a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Baric is a leading expert in coronaviruses and emerging infections.
Just last year, there were seven MTA requests associated with Baric’s lab. In 2020, there have already been 15 MTAs initiated with most related to COVID-19. While some agreements have been for UNC-Chapel Hill to receive the virus, many have been for shipping out models that are used to study the virus, which is important since there is a shortage of certain models needed to study COVID-19.
“Pharmaceutical companies eager to develop the right drugs to combat the virus want to work with Ralph Baric and his lab,” says Whitman. “Researchers and scientists are benefiting from his research. Pharma companies that have drugs in clinical trials to treat other viruses are reaching out because they want to test them against this new coronavirus as well.”