Doherty Institute secures landmark agreement with Moderna

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity (Doherty Institute) has finalised an agreement with technology company Moderna to access their cutting-edge mRNA Access program to develop mRNA vaccines for infectious diseases.

mRNA Access is designed to enable rapid acceleration of vaccine testing for a wide range of infectious diseases spanning HIV and tuberculosis, through to Japanese encephalitis virus.

Researchers at the Doherty Institute, including those from the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, School of Biomedical Sciences, will provide genetic sequence information of pathogen proteins that will be formulated into mRNA vaccines by Moderna and returned to the Institute to test in pre-clinical models.

University of Melbourne Professor Sharon Lewin, Director of the Doherty Institute, said having access to Moderna’s design tools and rapid production capacity was invaluable.

“We have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic the importance of being able to quickly create and deliver an effective vaccine,” Professor Lewin said.

“By applying Moderna’s mRNA technology there are opportunities to revolutionise our approach to developing both vaccines and therapeutics.

“Traditionally, these pathways take years. It is an incredible investment in the future of global health.”

Moderna has identified a list of close to 100 pathogens, which could be eligible to investigate through the agreement.

This includes the Human T-cell lymphotropic virus (HTLV-1), a deadly pathogen which affects up to 10 million people worldwide and is endemic in remote Aboriginal communities.

“More unfamiliar or neglected diseases like HTLV-1 are often difficult to attract funding and attention for, despite their widespread global burden,” Professor Lewin said.

“Having the ability to design an mRNA vaccine candidate for HTLV-1 in the future could save years and potentially thousands of lives.”

Hamilton Bennett, Senior Director of Vaccine Access and Partnerships at Moderna, stated that only a handful of Institutes had been selected at this early stage to benefit from the program.

“The Doherty Institute has established itself as a leader in infectious diseases research and we can see the potential for true innovation by partnering with their many talented researchers,” Ms Bennett said.

“Moderna’s technology has been shown to address emerging infectious diseases, but we recognise that we are not the subject matter experts and that is why these partnerships are so critical.”

This article was originally published by the Doherty Institute on 24 March.

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity is a joint venture between the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital.