Analysis and Commentary

mRNA: potential beyond the pandemic – by Matt Keon

Analysis and Commentary

As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic and the vaccine roll out picks up pace, the term mRNA has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Here Matt Keon argues that collaboration will unlock massive opportunities in health from mRNA technology beyond vaccines.

Recently Victorian, NSW and federal governments all made commitments to kickstart the manufacturing of mRNA vaccine technologies on our shores, a crucial step forward in the fight against Covid-19.

However, the potential for this technology spans far beyond the pandemic and has the capability to support the development of next generation vaccines, therapies and diagnostics in a range of areas. Here’s how.

mRNA technologies, in which genetic instructions are delivered to our cells to make viral or bacterial proteins themselves, have a greater role to play in the future of medicine.

One such example is the potential treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, like ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and MND (Motor neurone disease) which are fast becoming one of our greatest health risks as the global population continues to age.

What is becoming more evident is that sporadic ALS and MND is likely caused by a number of different mutations that can potentially be addressed powerfully through RNA therapy.

Therefore, an onshore mRNA facility could be a golden opportunity for Australia to develop RNA technologies to fight not only Covid-19 but a whole host of conditions Australians are increasingly suffering, and even enable us to effectively commercialise world class research happening within our universities and research institutions relating to RNA.

Collaboration is the vital ingredient

mRNA therapies are highly nuanced and complex which makes collaboration between industry, academics and government essential if we are to fully realise the scientific potential of this technology for the treatment of a range of diseases.

As an example, at GenieUs, we currently collaborate with the likes of the Perron Institute, the University of New South Wales and the University of Wollongong to identify new ways to target and treat neurodegenerative diseases and build personalised medicines.

Through these collaborations, we have been able to develop two mRNA therapies for ALS and are in the planning stages for experiments using mRNA therapies to target Hunter’s disease, Gaucher’s disease and KIF1a disorder.

In addition, we have been exploring another RNA therapy, called microRNA, which can target many genes at once. We have uncovered four unique microRNA that we believe are associated with ALS and could be a powerful avenue for future therapeutic development.

The possibilities are endless and Australia has the potential to be at the forefront of mRNA developments, globally.

But in order to do so, the Australian government must be looking to the long term and begin planning how support for mRNA technologies could be extended beyond the Covid-19 vaccines and used to develop treatments for other diseases.

It’s clear that mRNA technologies have vast potential, however, without the right focus, funding or partnerships, Australia will continue to remain behind in the commercialisation of our medical research discoveries.

Investment in mRNA technology and manufacturing capabilities will be critical if Australia is to pave the way in the use of mRNA across a broad spectrum of diseases.

Matt Keon is CEO and co-founder of GenieUs with 20 years of experience in the health sector, including telehealth, patient engagement, and healthtech platforms. Matt has run high-profile patient compliance campaigns for Oncology, Rare Diseases, Rheumatism, MS, Obesity, Diabetes and PKU. He also has a background in advertising and creative industries.

Picture: Matt Keon

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