Since the start of COVID-19’s impact on our community in January, Vanderbilt researchers have focused on pivoting longstanding research directions and capabilities to ending the global pandemic. Vanderbilt’s Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization (CTTC) has accelerated its services to facilitate three option/license agreements, 43 material transfer agreements (MTAs), and the filing of 11 patent applications in record time. Typically, a single complex license agreement’s negotiation and completion can stretch into nine months and a single MTA can take up to three weeks to complete. In contrast, CTTC completed the agreements in as few as 10 days or 24 hours, respectively.
“CTTC stands out among its peer offices at other universities, leading the way to facilitate our researchers’ discoveries and innovations,” said Vice Provost for Research Padma Raghavan. “Alan and his team have been working overtime to negotiate agreements and their unique MTAShare system expedites the transfer of research materials to ensure that our researchers’ transformative work reaches the public quickly. In the COVID-19 world, this has never been more important.”
The reach of academic research and discovery relevant to COVID-19 would exist in a vacuum if not for the ability to scale novel findings from the lab to commercial organizations with experience in product development. CTTC exists to provide professional commercialization services to the Vanderbilt community, thus optimizing the flow of innovation to the marketplace and generating revenue that supports future research activities, while having a positive impact on society.
“The only way we can rationally give our researchers’ discoveries a real chance to thrive is by developing a fast-reacting system,” said Alan Bentley, assistant vice chancellor of CTTC. “Prioritizing the successful completion of COVID-related agreements is a product of our commitment to our high caliber researchers and their projects.”
During this unprecedented time, CTTC is providing open-source access for interested parties to identify the value that research conducted at Vanderbilt can offer on a first-come, first-serve basis. Contracts are processed speedily to share researcher technology with as many parties as possible. The purpose of this atypical approach is to support the pinnacle of academic research, which is to allow the development of purposeful products from new inventions.
A license agreement is a contract that enables an entity to use Vanderbilt’s intellectual property rights in order to further develop inventions and sell products, in exchange for the payment of fees such as royalties. An MTA is the fairly routine agreement to transfer materials from one institution to another to support and enhance the receiving institution’s research. Both agreements ultimately enable the transfer of intellectual property from Vanderbilt for public benefit and facilitate collaborations between Vanderbilt and industry.
Most of the MTAs facilitated by CTTC for COVID-19 were completed within 24 hours or less. In many cases, researchers could not begin developing therapeutics or testing drugs developed for possible use in COVID-19 cases until the MTA was complete. “A delay in finalizing an agreement was a delay in finding solutions to COVID-19, therefore it was imperative to negotiate these promptly for the betterment of humankind,” said Jody Hankins, CTTC licensing officer of life science technologies.
The recent license agreement with biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and option agreement with biotech company IDBiologics provided antibodies for use in development of therapeutics to treat COVID-19. CTTC also executed an agreement to enable manufacturing and resale of antibodies by Leinco Technologies, a developer and manufacturer of leading-edge recombinant proteins, antibodies and conjugates for use in diagnostics and research applications. Each license agreement stems from research conducted and discovered under the guidance of James Crowe, Jr., director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center (VCC) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Ann Scott Carell Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology. “The processing time of the AstraZeneca agreement – 10 days – is a new speed record for a therapeutic license agreement,” said Bentley. “The team did a spectacular job in handling a complex agreement and being responsive to our licensee’s needs.”
Six COVID-19 related inventions with applications ranging from software and therapeutics to vaccines and diagnostics have led to the filing of 11 patent applications through CTTC. All applications are pending, although the US Patent Office announced a program to expedite the review of COVID-19 related patents cutting years off the typical process. The CTTC’s ability to facilitate significant quantities of patent applications is not unusual. This month the National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) announced that Vanderbilt is among the Top 100 Worldwide Universities Granted U.S. Patents for 2019.
Also, CTTC has devoted resources to identifying newly established grant opportunities for COVID-related projects that researchers would not have otherwise known about. By matching relevant research to these potential sources of funding and facilitating researchers’ applications, CTTC is further creating opportunities for Vanderbilt to contribute to the rapid and effective development of COVID-related technologies.
Currently, CTTC is reviewing numerous projects and ideas from Vanderbilt researchers that have the potential to yield additional industry partnerships.