Funding boost a shot in the arm for therapy innovation

The University of Auckland welcomes Budget funding of $40.7m for development of novel mRNA vaccines and other therapies.

Professor John Fraser discusses mRNA technology with PM Jacinda Ardern
Professor John Fraser discusses mRNA technology with PM Jacinda Ardern.

Wellbeing Budget 2022 funding of $40.7m over four years will support scientists who are looking to leverage exciting new mRNA technology and its potential for new medical therapies, says Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences dean Professor John Fraser.

Development of mRNA technology has taken a quantum leap during the COVID-19 pandemic, work that paves the way for further novel vaccines addressing challenging infectious diseases and other human and animal therapies.

 “This funding is a clear signal of the government’s willingness to invest in an exciting and powerful new science and to develop mRNA expertise here in Aotearoa. mRNA technology can be applied to many therapeutics, not just vaccines,” Fraser says.

The funding is for a research and development mRNA ‘platform’ that will allow New Zealand to:

  • develop its emerging strengths in this field, identify and address gaps in terms of capability and create high value jobs 
  • bridge engagement between researchers and industry partners to test and commercialise new approaches
  • support clinical testing
  • facilitate linkages with partners and institutions overseas.

 “The Budget funding aims to establish world-class expertise in mRNA technology in New Zealand and also to support collaboration with international efforts under way to advance and harmonise the technology,” Fraser says.

“This will allow vaccines and other therapeutics to be rapidly developed at a local scale with less reliance on the huge resources of a relatively limited number of giant pharmaceutical companies.”

Fraser leads a team at the University of Auckland working with mRNA to develop a vaccine to a notorious pathogen, Staphylococcus aureus.

The group’s work was given a significant boost with a share of $60m funding from the international Wellcome Trust R3 Leap multinational consortium that is advancing mRNA technology.

Staphylococcal infections can occur after surgery but are also common in the community.

"New Zealand has comparatively high rates of staphylococcal infection. It is serious and can be life-threatening and is increasingly antibiotic-resistant. It is also a big equity issue, as we have higher rates in Māori and Pacific people,” Fraser said.

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