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New funding will boost RNA research into vaccines and other healthcare treatments

22 March 2023

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and Waipapa Taumata Rau, University of Auckland, have been named as co-hosts of a government-funded Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) Development Platform. The platform is supported by the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the University of Otago, with Dr Kjesten Wiig of the Malaghan Institute and Professor John Fraser of the University of Auckland as the interim co-directors of the platform.

RNA technologies played a key role in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and this breakthrough has created significant opportunities for the technologies to be used in novel therapeutics, diagnostics, and vaccines. These technologies will also have application in other fields, including animal health and agriculture.

Initial funding of $500,000 is being provided to the RNA Development Platform to prepare a seven-year research plan. This plan will be supported by a further $69.5 million over seven years to support capacity- and capability-building in the sector.

The platform will bring together RNA researchers from around the country.

Victoria University of Wellington’s Vice-Provost (Research) Professor Margaret Hyland   says that the University is excited by the possibilities that jointly developing RNA technologies with our partners offers, working towards enhancing New Zealand’s resilience.

“This platform will bring together experts from across different organisations, here in New Zealand and internationally, and build the end-to-end capability of RNA technologies—from the lab right up to full-scale production.”

Professor John Fraser, Dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, and interim co-director of the platform agrees that results will come from a partnership approach that sees some of New Zealand’s leading research institutes and companies working to a shared goal of building this important technology in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Interim co-director Dr Kjesten Wiig from the Malaghan Institute says 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.

We believe that we are at the beginning of a step change in medicine—the RNA technology used in the COVID-19 vaccines is as disruptive and revolutionary as penicillin and computers.”

The University of Otago’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise), Professor Richard Blaikie, says the University is pleased to be a part of this exciting new initiative.

“Through the pandemic we demonstrated as a research community our ability to work together to quickly provide novel solutions for the health sector or industry—this new platform puts this on an enduring footing for RNA research.”