Developing technology tools to advance scientific innovations
While research materials such as chemical compounds and cell lines are essential to scientific experimentation and validation, thorny and time-consuming materials transfer agreements (MTAs) slow down these materials’ transfer and re-use. MTAs define both provider and recipient rights, enabling tangible research materials to be transferred between two organizations and allowing the recipient to use the materials for further research. But current practices in materials transfer result in long delays, high transaction costs, and lost research opportunities, which make scaling the rapidly increasing volume of research and transactions unlikely. Previous attempts to reduce these transaction costs through standardization have been hampered by excessive complexity, lack of consensus on standards, and continued demand for customized transactions. There also is evidence that barriers to industry-academic transfers, which are critical to entrepreneurship, are even more significant due to relative lack of transparency and accepted standards. Eliminating these barriers, including legal transaction costs and lack of automated transfer processes, would save hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of hours of wasted research time every year, and also would save a substantial number of promising research projects which otherwise may simply be abandoned.
Science Commons, an organization that designs strategies and tools for faster, more efficient Web-enabled scientific research, is working to shift the innovation engines to the users. It identifies unnecessary barriers to research, crafts policy guidelines and legal agreements to lower those barriers, and develops technology to make research data and materials easier to find and use. Its goal is to speed the translation of data into discovery—unlocking the value of research so more people can benefit from the work scientists are doing.
A Kauffman Foundation grant to Science Commons is supporting work to develop a standard set of tools that would reduce MTA transaction costs between university and entrepreneurs, university and university, and industry and university. Science Commons is working to deploy a suite of MTAs that combine standardization and customization through modular options, aided by a simplified Web-based MTA interface, plain-language summaries, license-generation engine, computer-readable metadata, technology infrastructure for materials discovery and tracking of materials re-use, and integration into physical repositories for ordering and fulfillment.