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09 Aug 2022

Victoria’s first mRNA innovation hub backed by state government

A collaborative team of Melbourne researchers from the Doherty Institute, Monash University and the University of Melbourne have received $5.4 million from the Victorian government to establish The Victorian mRNA Innovation Hub to develop next-generation mRNA vaccines and therapeutics to treat a range of diseases.

The Hub is made up of four nodes and brings together mRNA experts from the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute), Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS), the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) and the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology. The Hub is headquartered at MIPS and Monash RNA. 

The funding, which is part of the state government’s mRNA Victoria Activation Program initiative, aims to develop new technologies that will underpin mRNA therapeutics and vaccines that are more effective, cheaper and faster to produce. At the same time, the Hub will train a cohort of cross-disciplinary mRNA scientists to drive next generation mRNA innovation and production in Victoria.

Victoria has led the charge in the mRNA space, including the development of Australia’s first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine candidate that was developed at MIPS and is currently in clinical trials in partnership with the Doherty Institute. 

Director of MIPS and Chair of The Victorian mRNA Innovation Hub Management Committee, Professor Chris Porter, said that Victoria’s mRNA ecosystem is on the cusp of significant opportunity but urgently needs to build a critical mass of highly trained scientists to drive domestic mRNA innovation and support this national imperative.

“We are lucky to have a pool of exceptional talent in mRNA research right here in Victoria, however until now there has been no central hub bringing together the cross-disciplinary skills in molecular biology, mRNA biology, drug delivery and pharmaceutical sciences to drive this expansion,” said Professor Porter.

“The major aim of The Victorian mRNA Innovation Hub is to increase the efficiency of mRNA manufacture and delivery, to develop unencumbered IP to support the development of Australian mRNA products and to train and upskill a community of mRNA scientists to drive Victorian mRNA innovation and create a skilled workforce.”

Monash University President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner AC, said the investment highlights Victoria’s world-class capability in the field of mRNA therapeutics.

“Monash University and the partners involved in this exciting venture are well-positioned to lead Victoria’s end-to-end development of new mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for infectious and rare diseases. I extend my congratulations to all involved.”

Project board member and Director of Monash BDI, Professor John Carroll, said that this investment will help generate new IP that will stimulate the local biotech industry, creating jobs and economic growth for Victoria and the nation. The investment is testament to Victoria’s commitment to being at the forefront of medical innovation.

“Last year the Victorian government made a significant $50 million investment to establish mRNA Victoria, an initiative responsible for leading the state’s world-class RNA and mRNA industry. By funding the launch of this Hub, we are in a stronger position than ever to boost local RNA capability and provide vaccine and medicine security for future generations,” Professor Carroll said.

The Victorian mRNA Innovation Hub is made up of four primary nodes:

Node 1: Led by Associate Professor Traude Beilharz, Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI)

The BDI Node houses arguably the highest concentration of RNA researchers in Australia. The scientists have significant experience in mRNA stability; in vitro synthesis and purification of RNA; transcription regulation, and complex RNA design. Their research will lead to the generation of new molecular RNA tools and novel approaches to generate improved mRNA therapeutics.

Node 2: Led by Professor Damian Purcell, Doherty Institute

Node leader, Professor Purcell, has >30 years’ experience with RNA-research spanning mRNA modification, structure, translation regulation, stability, and viral packaging. The Node will bring together expertise in high containment, in vitro cultivation (SARS-CoV-2, influenza, other), animal infection models, analysis of viral RNA elements, testing of antiviral efficacy and assessment of innate and adaptive antibody and cellular immune responses.

Node 3: Led by Professor Colin Pouton, Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS)

MIPS is the leading national centre for pharmaceutical sciences and Professor Pouton has >30 years’ experience in drug and nucleic acid delivery and has the most well developed mRNA vaccine program in Australia. The MIPS Node brings together broad experience in parenteral and mucosal drug delivery, targeting to immune cells within the lymph and immune system, pharmacokinetics and drug disposition and expertise in vaccine and drug development. In collaboration with the other nodes MIPS scientists will develop new delivery technologies to promote the utility of next generation mRNA therapeutics. 

Node 4: Led by Professor Frank Caruso, Engineering and Information Technology, University of Melbourne

The Caruso group is internationally renowned for nanoscience and nanofabrication and is exceptionally well resourced to evaluate the critical interactions that occur at the nanobio interface between nanoparticles and target cells. The Node will combine expertise in delivery engineering with experience in nanomaterial assembly, nanoengineering and gene delivery, along with the development of prototype technologies to investigate novel mRNA delivery systems.

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