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Investment in RNA technology will boost NZ science and biotech capability

19 May 2022

The Malaghan Institute is welcoming today’s budget announcement of $40.7M over four years to support an RNA platform and R&D pipeline in New Zealand.

“We already have the skills and expertise across New Zealand to start applying this breakthrough science, this investment will help ensure we have the capability to make it happen and improve our nation’s health and economic productivity,” says Dr Kjesten Wiig, Malaghan Institute Director of Strategic Partnerships.

“RNA technology presents a significant opportunity for New Zealand to supercharge its thriving biotech sector and become a leader in the development of novel RNA therapeutics. This RNA platform will build on established capability to prepare New Zealand for future pandemics and ensure vaccine security.”

As part of its involvement in Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo (VAANZ) the Malaghan Institute has been working with Government and local and international collaborators to start to build the key components and capability for an RNA platform in New Zealand. This has included the purchase of cutting-edge nanoparticle technology, the first of its kind in New Zealand, to produce lipid nanoparticles to encapsulate mRNA to safely deliver it to cells.

Dr Wiig says COVID-19 vaccines are just the start of what RNA technology offers.

“The RNA technology used in the COVID vaccines is as disruptive and revolutionary as penicillin and computers. It can be applied to many other diseases, including cancer and influenza, and will transform therapeutics and treatments for patients across the world.

“RNA technology offers the potential to develop real-world solutions for New Zealand specific problems, including diseases that disproportionately affect our Māori and Pasifika populations.”

She says it also offers huge potential for the agriculture and aquaculture sectors, in which the development of effective vaccines and therapies can help ensure animal health and biosecurity.

“Our vision is that this investment is used to build a highly collaborative research platform and pipeline across New Zealand to develop, manufacture and commercialise breakthrough RNA therapeutics,” says Dr Wiig.

“We are looking forward to hearing more detail about the Government’s vision for this investment, and to collaborating with other local and international organisations to help realise it.”