Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Ramping up local research and innovation in RNA technology

Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington and Waipapa Taumata Rau – the University of Auckland have been tasked to develop a plan for a government-funded Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) Development Platform.

The work will be supported by the Te Whare Wānanga o Ōtākou – the University of Otago and the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.

“The impact of this emerging technology was clear when RNA vaccines were rapidly developed for the COVID-19 pandemic,” said MBIE’s Manager, Strategic Investments, Trevor Drage.

“Now, this technology could help produce new vaccines, treatments and diagnostics that improve health outcomes in areas such as cancer and autoimmune diseases. There are even potential applications in other areas, such as animal health and agriculture.”

Mr Drage said the RNA Development Platform will increase capabilities across New Zealand’s growing biotechnology sector, from research and development through to regulations and production.

The Platform will allow researchers and businesses to turn ground-breaking ideas and early-stage research into beneficial products and services, he said.

“It will also support developments in manufacturing, such as by creating new delivery systems for RNA vaccines or advancing smaller scale labs to be able to efficiently produce RNA therapeutics.”

Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Auckland have initial funding of $500,000 to develop a 7-year plan for the Platform under the co-host arrangement. Their proposal intends to bring people, facilities, information and knowledge together to focus on various RNA research and innovation projects. Once the plan is approved, a further investment of $69.5 million over seven years will fund research and innovation within the RNA Development Platform.

“This major investment in New Zealand’s Research, Science and Innovation (RSI) sector will go towards our national effort to build capability in areas such as vaccine resilience and, more broadly, the ability to respond to future health threats,” Mr Drage said.

Dr Kjesten Wiig of the Malaghan Institute and Professor John Fraser of the University of Auckland have been appointed interim co-directors. Funding is administered by MBIE under its Strategic Science Investment Fund.

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