Skip to main content

Material Transfer Agreement Guidelines

The exchange of materials among scientists is a common, and much needed practice. Material Transfer Agreements (MTAs) protect the rights of both the receiver and the provider of these materials. As a general rule, UH requires MTAs for any incoming or outgoing materials in order to monitor what materials are coming on campus, and what materials (and to whom) UH is supplying. Typically, for incoming materials, the entity sending out the material will require the use of its own MTA form. For the purpose of outgoing material transfers, UH has standard MTA agreements on the DOR webpage to cover these materials. Whether the material is incoming or outgoing, agreements of this type are negotiated by the Division of Research. 

What Is a Material Transfer Agreement?

A Material Transfer Agreement (MTA) is a contract that governs the transfer of tangible research materials between two organizations, when the recipient intends to use it for his or her own research purposes. The MTA defines the rights of the provider and the recipient with respect to the materials and any derivatives. Biological materials, such as reagents, cell lines, plasmids, and vectors, are the most frequently transferred materials, but MTAs may also be used for other types of materials, such as chemical compounds and even some types of software.

Why Do I Need a Material Transfer Agreement?

MTAs for incoming material typically:

  • Protect a researcher's ability to use and publish research results
  • Protect any existing and potential intellectual property
  • Define the use of any accompanying confidential information

The review of an incoming MTA ensures the agreement terms don't conflict with rights granted in other agreements associated with the research.

MTAs for outgoing material typically prevent the material provider from losing control over the material and its research use. If no agreement exists, then the recipient of the material has no legal restrictions on the use of the material, or on transferring the material.

When Do I Use a Material Transfer Agreement?

  • When sending tangible research materials or samples to a colleague at another university or educational research organization.
  • When a colleague from another university or entity, outside UH, is providing tangible research materials or samples. 
  • When purchasing materials from a vendor that requires that an MTA be signed.

What Types of Materials Can Be Sent or Received Using a Material Transfer Agreement?

In general, most materials can be sent or received using an MTA as long as the proper approvals are in place and the research is not a Clinical Trial. The following are examples of materials that can be sent/received with an MTA:

  • Biological Materials: antibodies, transgenic and knock-out mice, cDNA, plasmids, reagents, proteins, recombinant proteins, vectors, human embryonic stem cells, etc.
  • Drugs from pharmaceutical companies
  • Data: human subject research data, access to databases (e.g. Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York Morgue, etc.)
  • Computer Software (in some cases)
  • Intellectual property exclusively licensed by UH to another party
  • Any material that was received from another party under an agreement

Some materials, such as controlled substances, pathogens, viruses and other harmful biological agents are subject to specials guidelines and/or procedures.

Compliance Review

MTAs (incoming and outgoing) must undergo a compliance review to ensure that the appropriate compliance protocols, if applicable, are in place. 

  • MTAs for live animals must have protocol(s) reviewed and approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
  • MTAs for human tissue and/or data must be reviewed to ensure compliance with 45 CFR 46 (and all other applicable federal regulations), and, if required, have protocol(s) reviewed and approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB).
  • MTAs for hazardous materials must be reviewed to ensure biosafety compliance and, if applicable, have protocol(s) reviewed and approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).

MTAs where the decision to undertake the research is based on receiving access to the material(s) from a non-governmental or industrial provider must follow Conflict of Interest (COI) Committee requirements for financial disclosure. 

Other Considerations:

Uniform Biological Material Transfer Agreement (UBMTA)

Our University is a signatory to the Uniform Biological Material Transfer Agreement (UBMTA) Master Agreement, a contracting mechanism published by NIH on behalf of PHS to facilitate the transfer of biological materials between academic institutions. For institutions who have agreed to the terms of the UBMTA Master Agreement, it is not necessary to negotiate individualized terms for each transfer of a biological material. Instead, an Implementing Letter is executed, which denotes the biological material as well as the providing institution and receiving institution. Whenever possible, the Clinical and Corporate Contract team will utilize the UBMTA to expedite the transfer of applicable biological materials. 

Ordering Materials From a Repository Like the NIH AIDS Reagent Program

Some repositories require registrations and some require MTAs, and some require both. If you are registering to use a repository, or if you are ordering a specific material, and the repository requires an institutional signature, then documentation will need to be submitted to the Division of Research.

Transferring Export Controlled Material

Under U.S. export control laws, a license may be required from the Bureau of Industry and Security of the Department of Commerce for the export of certain materials. There are, for instance, controls on the export of materials that could possibly be used in chemical or biological weapons. Examples of such materials include human pathogens, zoonoses, toxins, animal pathogens, genetically modified microorganisms, plant pathogens, radioactive materials, magnetic metals, propellants and ceramic materials. 

Anyone who is planning to transfer materials controlled by the Department of Commerce or the Department of State outside the United States, should work with the UH Export Control Officer, Sandy Brown, to obtain the required license. There are civil and criminal penalties for violating the Export Administration Regulations.

MTA Procedures

Responsible Party Action
Principal Investigator Submit the MTA and the completed compliance questionnaire via email to DORCONTRACTS@LISTSERV.UH.EDU
Office of Research Integrity and Oversight (RIO) OCG will route the agreement and the compliance questionnaire for approvals concerning Human Subjects, Animals, Conflicts of Interest.
Environmental Health and Life Safety (EHLS) OCG will route the agreement and the compliance questionnaire for approvals concerning Biosafety.
OCG Contract Officer Will review the agreement and negotiate as needed, to confirm that the MTA complies with institutional policies and does not contain language that affects UH intellectual property rights or conflicts with the laws of the State of Texas.
VP of Research If the document contains language that is not normally accepted by the University, and it cannot be negotiated out, the Contract Officer must obtain approval on whether to accept the language or reject the agreement.
OCG When the agreement has been finalized, OCG will coordinate the signatures and retain a PDF copy of the fully executed agreement for your records.