Dedicated mRNA lab coming to University of Queensland


Friday, 24 November, 2023

Dedicated mRNA lab coming to University of Queensland

mRNA vaccines and therapies will soon be produced for clinical trials in a dedicated laboratory at The University of Queensland (UQ). Work on the laboratory is currently underway at UQ’s BASE facility, which has become a leading provider of mRNA for research and pilot studies since its launch in 2021.

Housed at UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, BASE has already provided academic and industry partners with more than 150 experimental-grade vaccines and therapies for cancers and infectious and genetic diseases. According to BASE Director Associate Professor Tim Mercer, the new lab will provide the facility with “end-to-end capabilities for mRNA vaccine development, from their initial design through to clinical trials — allowing the next generation of mRNA vaccines and therapies to be built in Queensland”.

“This centre will help ensure the world’s biggest biotech companies continue to turn to Australian researchers at UQ when they’re looking to make what could be the next medical advance,” Mercer continued. “We aim to begin manufacturing mRNA for phase 1 clinical trials in 2024.”

The Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) National Critical Research Infrastructure scheme will contribute $4.3 million towards the lab, with global healthcare company Sanofi and UQ each committing $1 million, and the Queensland Government $250,000. UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Deborah Terry said having the capability to produce clinical trial-quality mRNA in Australia will be a crucial step towards pandemic preparedness and realising the economic benefits from research.

“Our BASE team has already grown from five founding scientists to more than 20 researchers now, and we expect to continue to grow with more highly skilled positions for mRNA manufacture,” Terry said.

“This investment builds on the Translation Science Hub (TSH) partnership announced by the Queensland Government and Sanofi in December, in which UQ is a partner,” Terry continued. As part of that partnership, Sanofi recently opened an mRNA research site at Griffith University’s Gold Coast campus, enabling researchers to use the university’s state-of-the art infrastructure to better understand mRNA vaccine technology.

“The best way to truly realise the promise of mRNA technology is for the scientific community to have easy access to high-grade mRNA to use, test and learn,” said Dr Iris Depaz, Managing Director TSH & Country Medical Lead, Sanofi Australia and New Zealand.

“Our contribution to this BASE MRFF grant is part of our commitment to supporting multiple projects that grow the local scientific ecosystem.”

Meanwhile, south of the border, RNA Australia has released the designs for a $96 million RNA research and pilot manufacturing facility to be based at Sydney’s Macquarie University. Originally announced in February this year, the facility is planned to be the only site in Australia — and one of a handful in the world — where a wide range of RNA therapeutics and potential delivery technologies will be independently produced.

Artist’s impression of the RNA research and pilot manufacturing facility.

The 4000 m2 facility, which will be operated by Myeloid Therapeutics, will enable the local research, development and production of a broad spectrum of RNA technologies to treat a range of human and animal diseases, disorders and infections. Funding for the facility was provided by the NSW Government, which has also provided $119 million over 10 years for RNA R&D projects.

Artist impressions show that the new facility will be located in close proximity to the Connect Macquarie Park Innovation District, home to medical and health-related organisations as well as industrial and technology startups. Work to deliver the facility is progressing, with construction expected to start in 2024 following required approvals. The facility is expected to be completed in late 2025.

Top image: BASE Director Associate Professor Tim Mercer and researcher Dae Jong Han.

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