Professor Sam Halabi co-chaired a conference on the changing relevance of material transfer agreements (MTAs) for the sharing of biological samples for research into infectious diseases like Ebola, influenza, and MERS-CoV in early May. With support from the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, Halabi, together with Professor Rebecca Katz at Georgetown University, convened experts from the World Health Organization, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and global leaders in infectious disease research to discuss how material transfer agreements – which used to be routine contracts requiring little negotiation – are now being used to demand that downstream benefits of research like medicines and vaccines be committed before pathogens are shared. These demands are typically made by resource poor but biodiverse rich countries that are generally unable to afford the high prices charged for new medicines and vaccines.
While the use of MTAs might play an important role in ensuring that medicines and vaccines reach vulnerable populations, that interest must be balanced with the interest of the scientific community in access to biological samples and related genetic sequencing data. The conference will result in an edited volume as well as further outreach on the issue by Professors Halabi, Katz, and others.