What is eCTS? And Why Is It Taking So Long Anyway?

Emory’s Electronic Contract Tracking System (eCTS) is the online portal for all research contracts/agreements and general information related to the contract negotiation and award set-up of specific studies and clinical trials. The online portal is accessible to everyone who has an Emory netid. This system creates a streamlined source for updates and general information throughout the course of contract negotiations and award set-up. Each study or trial entry has the following information listed: proposal ID number, investigator, title, sponsor, school/department, status, assigned contract analyst, important dates, and details.  A study can be searched and tracked within eCTS by the Emory Proposal Express (EPEX) ID (e.g. 0000012345) or a uniquely generated number for contracts that do not route through EPEX (e.g. CDA.12345.678910).

According to Daniella Carter, JD, a Senior Sponsored Research Analyst in Industry Contracting at Emory, the details section is one of the most useful aspects of the site; it provides a mechanism to keep all involved parties at Emory up to date on the status of an agreement. This is particularly important given all of the moving parts involved in the contract process. The process is not linear and includes many contingent steps. For example, a study needs IRB/regulatory approval and budget approval, and only then can the agreement be signed. At this point, eCTS might show “negotiations completed,” but there is still a waiting period before they can formally move forward.

The completion of a contract is delayed in two main ways: delays finalizing language and delays with contract execution. The language within an agreement is critical and every edit has a reason, namely to protect an individual’s ideas and to protect Emory. Carter goes over every agreement numerous times, carefully evaluating the wording to make sure the language is accurate and terms are correct. She then marks the document with tracked changes and returns the document to the industry sponsor contact for their review and approval. This document typically goes back and forth between parties at least a few times until both reach a consensus on the contract language.

Delays can also come from fine-tuning details, for example if one party wants the other to maintain confidential information for fifteen years, the other party might suggest five years, and they then agree on ten. Alternatively, if the sponsor is using a Contract Research Organization (CRO), then it often takes more time to reach an agreement on the contract language given that there is an added middle-man within the negotiation process.

Some agreements are simply more complicated than others; certain PI-initiated studies might require more back and forth to ensure that intellectual property rights are maintained for a particular idea being tested. Delays in contract execution are common; if one party is busy and does not sign in a timely manner, the whole process is extended.

The second delay can be with contract execution. While negotiations on contract language may be complete with the sponsor there can still be outstanding items. The two most common of these are review and approval by the IRB or the completion of budget negotiations. While these reviews can be initiated at the same time and happen in paralleled they don’t typically complete at the same time. The “details” section in eCTS for a particular agreement is a wealth of information and often includes dates when contract analysts have followed up with departments or other involved parties.

eCTS is an incredibly useful tool for members of Emory’s Research Administration—it minimizes the number of follow-up emails and streamlines communication between the contracts team and other research offices at Emory, but it does not always convey the complexity that goes on behind the scenes when negotiating and reaching agreement on a contract.