NZ takes on mRNA market with arrival of million dollar machine

Kate Nicol-Williams
Source: 1News

New Zealand’s capability to make mRNA vaccines has made a significant advance with the arrival of a million dollar machine, that mixes synthetic mRNA molecules with fat lipids, creating the base for a vaccine.

“I feel actually very reassured and pleased because it means that we can get on with seeing how we can manufacture and develop our vaccines that are made in New Zealand, which will be good for booster shots for Covid-19, also for other vaccines in the future,” Vaccine Alliance Aotearoa New Zealand – Ohu Kaupare Huaketo director Professor Graham Le Gros said.

Messenger RNA is synthetic genetic information in molecule form that teaches the human body how to fight the virus.

Encapsulating the fragile molecules in fat lipids is a safe way to transport the vaccine to cells for an immune response to be triggered.

Developing this process has taken the international vaccine development community decades, with some sceptical it couldn’t be done.

The NanoAssembler Blaze machine was funded by private donations and is based at animal product and vaccine developer South Pacific Sera in Timaru.

Research carried out by a range of organisations as part of the Government-backed Vaccine Alliance will be developed further with the technology allowing scientists to trial the creation of vaccines to protect against Covid-19.

“The plan is to have a vaccine ready to go by the end of the year - while that might seem a long timeframe in the current pandemic, you've got to think we're actually doing a catch-up job on a whole decade of development and technology,” South Pacific Sera Dr William Rolleston said.

Millions of doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 mRNA vaccine have been imported into New Zealand to protect Kiwis from serious Covid-19 illness during the pandemic.

At times, the available stock of vaccines has been tight.

“I think it’s obvious that if we have the ability to manufacture vaccines here in New Zealand that any supply chain issues would not be a feature of any roll-out,” Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods said.

“It's critical for our own survival for charting our own course, rather than relying on other people to do the job for us,” VAANZ director Professor Graham Le Gros said.

It’s hoped the technology will be used for making mRNA vaccines to tackle a range of human and animal diseases in New Zealand and the wider Pacific in the future.