Virus and superbug vaccines at the core of TIA-supported research

Researchers are building on the University of Queensland’s expertise in vaccine technology and accessing TIA capabilities to develop vaccines suitable for both pandemic viruses and antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Using the TIA-supported BASE mRNA Facility and collaborating with biotechnology company Moderna and UQ spin-out Vaxxas, the researchers aim to bring mRNA vaccine candidates into clinical trials within five years.

The ultimate goal is a platform technology that enables vaccines to be tailored for different infectious diseases and easily and accurately reproduced around the world.

Professor Mark Walker leads the project and worked with Professor Paul Young to broker a partnership with Moderna platform mRNA Access to research and develop vaccines to tackle the world’s greatest global public health threats.

UQ was selected as one of the first launch institutions partnering with Moderna and gaining access to their mRNA platform to develop vaccines for neglected and emerging diseases.

UQ’s $50 million Health Research Accelerator (HERA) initiative, which invests in a new medical research model and capabilities to address pressing research and innovation challenges, will further enhance UQ vaccine research and development capacity.

HERA’s flagship mRNA program will fund four researchers at the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (SCMB) and UQ’s Diamantina Institute.

The BASE mRNA facility, jointly funded by TIA and UQ and housed at the AIBN, is central to the new initiative. BASE is Australia’s first operational mRNA production facility and supplies to Australian academic and industrial researchers.

The domestic capacity to manufacture research-grade mRNA will enable rapid evaluation of preclinical mRNA candidates for translation into the clinic.

BASE conducts manufacturing encompassing mRNA design, production, analytics and formulation for preclinical testing.

As part of the HERA initiative, BASE-affiliated researcher Dr Seth Cheetham is forming a new research group at AIBN to translate UQ infectious diseases discoveries into effective mRNA vaccine candidates.

“UQ has expertise across infectious disease research, mRNA technology, vaccine development and delivery, and collaboration with industry,” Professor Walker said.

“We also have access to facilities such as BASE – so that puts us in the best possible position.

“Collaborating with Moderna mRNA Access is a crucial part of the research.

“What we would be getting from them is that full package – we would provide the sequence; they would provide back to us a formulated vaccine that we would put into pre-clinical studies.

“UQ brings disease-specific expertise to be able to design and test vaccines and demonstrate efficacy – those are the things that UQ does very well.”

Professor Young said the platform could have use in other areas of research and development.

“Once we get the platform right, we will have an enabling technology that can be widely rolled out and tailored for delivery using Vaxxas microarray patches – eliminating the need for a needle and syringe,” he said.

The needle-free patches have thousands of mirco-projections that can be accurately coated with a vaccine and applied directly to the skin, delivering a vaccine to layers directly under the skin surface where abundant immune cells are found.