MRFF back Monash mRNA researchers

Monash University

Team member Dr Harry Al-Wassiti.

The Commonwealth Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) has invested $5 million into a new Monash laboratory dedicated to developing mRNA vaccines and therapeutics for future clinical trials.

The project will provide a pipeline for mRNA research groups to identify and select the most promising therapeutic candidates in proof-of-concept studies to advance toward human trials, with the potential to develop vaccines against infectious diseases, and develop new therapies to treat liver diseases, metabolic diseases, muscular diseases, rare genetic diseases or cancer.

Leading the project is Professor Colin Pouton from the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS) and the project will be conducted in collaboration with Monash’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI). The laboratory will be located at MIPS.

Professor Pouton said the funding will fill a critical gap to put Australian industry at the forefront of mRNA technology by identifying and developing mature mRNA candidate products that are ready to be manufactured for clinical testing, strengthening Australia’s resilience to a range of diseases and future health emergencies.

“This project builds on Monash’s experience in the design, development and manufacture of mRNA products to build a number of new products for clinical development. Through the establishment of a newly dedicated lab, our research collaborators will be positioned to accelerate promising candidates through preclinical development for progression into manufacturing for clinical trials and beyond” said Professor Pouton.

Monash has been working on mRNA technology for a number of years and designed and developed Australia’s first mRNA clinical candidate, a second generation COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

In 2021 the vaccine became Australia’s first onshore experience in developing an mRNA clinical trial product when Monash researchers, led by Professor Pouton, partnered with Melbourne-based pharmaceutical manufacturing company, IDT Australia, to successfully manufacture the vaccine for a Phase 1 clinical trial being conducted by the Doherty Institute.

Professor Pouton said translating the teams’ laboratory work into a product ready to be tested in humans was a rewarding experience.

“With the MRFF-funding we very much look forward to harnessing the knowledge we’ve gained through previous projects to further support local mRNA manufacturing and strengthen Australia’s sovereign capabilities in this area,” said Professor Pouton.

“Monash University is committed to working with government to help Australia become world leaders in mRNA medicines across the research and development pipeline, which starts in the lab. On behalf of the University I extend my congratulations to Professor Pouton and his team as they continue to lead the charge in the mRNA space,” said Professor Doron Ben-Meir, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Enterprise and Engagement) and Senior Vice President.

Director of MIPS and one of the project’s Chief Investigators, Professor Chris Porter, said the funding will establish, extend and enhance Monash’s mRNA infrastructure to help Australia remain at the forefront of mRNA research.

“The candidate products advanced through the MRFF program will help to address Australia’s health security. By advancing new mRNA vaccines for prevention of infectious diseases, as well as developing new therapeutic projects for unmet medical needs, this investment will boost local RNA capability and provide vaccine and medicine security for future generations.”

Monash has access to significant expertise in mRNA research and development. In addition to Professor Pouton and Professor Porter, Chief Investigators include Director of BDI, Professor John Carroll, alongside leading mRNA researchers including Associate Professor Traude Beilharz, Associate Professor Chen Davidovich, Associate Professor Natalie Trevaskis, Associate Professor Angus Johnson and Dr Harry Al-Wassiti.

Professor John Carroll of BDI said: “Not only will this funding play a vital role in helping to generate new mRNA products, it will also create jobs across the mRNA research, development and manufacturing ecosystem. The investment is testament to Monash’s commitment to being at the forefront of medical innovation.”

This is one of 21 Monash University medical and health research projects that received funding from the Australian Government through the MRFF, announced on Tuesday 14 March.

Monash University is home to Monash RNA, Australia’s largest network of RNA and mRNA researchers and brings together mRNA specialists from the fields of biotechnology, infectious disease, immunity and cancer, at the leading edge of a new era in novel mRNA therapeutics.

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