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RNA platform operators chosen

Image: Malaghan Institute of Medical Research


National NZ$70 million research project begins at University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington

Two universities are to lead New Zealand’s push to develop an RNA research and development platform.

In an announcement on 22 March, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said that the University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington had been selected to lead the programme. The Malaghan Institute of Medical Research and the University of Otago are also partners in the winning bid, which followed a public tender process.

Initial funding of NZ$500,000 will enable the development of a seven-year plan. The government has set aside a further NZ$69.5 million to carry out that seven-year plan. RNA technology has already been used in Covid-19 vaccines and has possible applications in other medical settings, as well as agriculture.

The group is expected to work with researchers across New Zealand to investigate their needs and the possibilities of the technology.

Disruptive and revolutionary

Malaghan’s Kjesten Wiig (pictured) and Auckland’s John Fraser will be the interim co-directors of the platform.

Wiig said that New Zealand was “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”.

Richard Blaikie, deputy vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at Otago, said the pandemic had shown how the country’s scientists could work together, and “this new platform puts this on an enduring footing for RNA research”.

The ministry said the platform would “allow researchers and businesses to turn groundbreaking ideas and early-stage research into beneficial products and services”.