RNA biotechnology is NSW’s industry of the future


Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, little was generally known about messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines based on RNA biotechnology. Rather than putting a weakened germ inside our bodies, an mRNA vaccine cleverly teaches our cells how to make a protein which leads to an immune response.

The mRNA vaccine manufacturing process can be easily scaled up so it’s faster than for traditional vaccines. It has been the standout vaccine in countering the COVID-19 pandemic.

RNA-based products are also a rapidly expanding category of drugs, diagnostics, and treatments for other diseases including cancer and autoimmune disorders. They have the potential to be a major growth industry and a profoundly positive impact on our community’s health.

Gabrielle Upton
Gabrielle Upton: Building an RNA manufacturing capability in NSW

Against this backdrop, the NSW Premier announced in May that the NSW government would boost the state’s pandemic preparedness by creating a new RNA medical manufacturing and research industry.

The decision was underpinned by the government’s Accelerating R&D Action Plan which argues that NSW needs to translate more R&D to build our future industries and jobs.

NSW has a great position from which to accelerate our R&D translation. We may not boast about it as much as others, but we have top quality and deep pockets of research.

Two of our 11 universities are in the global top 200, our 19 medical research institutes have a strong culture of collaboration and R&D spending by our businesses is high compared with other states and territories.

NSW also has a strong and diverse RNA research ecosystem including in gene and cell therapy, oncology, vaccines and infectious diseases. Our clinical trials system is world-leading.

But translating research into industries and jobs is a globally acknowledged challenge. It requires solid partnerships between industry, universities and research institutions and Government can play a critical role by investing in these partnerships.

This is where our recently announced $98 million RNA pilot manufacturing facility fits in to squarely tackle the challenge.

It will provide a central location that bridges the gap between our RNA-related R&D and a viable commercial RNA industry in NSW.

It will generate a pathway for commercialising locally produced vaccines and therapies, develop skills and know-how in RNA manufacturing and be a key attractor for international and domestic investment in a growing RNA industry.

Our RNA pilot manufacturing facility is a winner – it already has the backing of the NSW RNA Bioscience Alliance which is a first-time coalition between the 14 university members of the NSW Vice-Chancellor’s Committee across NSW and the ACT.

They have committed to work collaboratively with the NSW government and industry to support our thriving RNA-research ecosystem. It stands alongside their already substantial investment in essential RNA technology, skills and intellectual property.

The NSW government’s investment in the RNA pilot manufacturing facility is our next significant down payment on building the RNA industry of the future.

We have already provided additional support to the RNA research ecosystem through a new $15 million NSW RNA Production and Research Network headed up by UNSW.

The Network will provide high-quality genetic material for pre-clinical studies to help in the COVID-19 response. This is alongside the recently announced $25 million RNA Institute which has been established by UNSW Sydney.

As an infant industry, RNA provides the perfect opportunity for NSW to translate its strong research capabilities and be a first mover in establishing a commercialised RNA industry. RNA is NSW’s industry of the future.

The Hon Gabrielle Upton MP is Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier. Ms Upton co-charied the Accelerating R&D in NSW taskforce with NSW chief scientist and engineer, Hugh Durrant-Whyte.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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