Covid-19: Auckland firm develops RNA production platform, paving way for Kiwi vaccine

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Stuff, Auckland, NZ, 06 Nov 2021

They came to widespread public notice with the use of RNA in Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines, but they are also being used in a range of new medical treatments beyond vaccines.

Previously, RNAs were produced in New Zealand by researchers on a small scale, using kits.

In a statement, BioCell said RNA technology was tied up in a complex web of patents. The details of how RNA was produced were closely guarded corporate secrets.

Only a few companies could produce high quality RNA at the scale needed for vaccines or mass market drugs, BioCell said.

The company has developed a platform, dubbed RapidNA, to quickly produce large amounts of RNA in New Zealand.

Its south Auckland production facility has pharmaceutical grade clean rooms for producing RNA.

The platform was “rapidly scalable” and could produce highquality mRNA (messenger RNA, as used in the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine) of varying lengths, the company said.

In addition to the RNA platform, BioCell will install New Zealand’s first high-speed automated filling machine at its Papatoetoe production facility.

The machine will be able to fill up to 100 million vaccine doses on site.

The machine and the RNA platform set the stage for the future production of RNA-based vaccines and drugs in New Zealand, the company said.

Biocell chief executive Nidish Nair said the development of the RapidNA platform would not have been possible without funding from Crown entity Callaghan Innovation.

“While the RNA technology is not a panacea and will not replace other manufacturing platforms, having the ability to produce high quality mRNA through a scalable and reproducible process will be critical for most countries as part of their emergency preparedness and resilience,” Nair said.

“We are proud to be able to help establish that capability and capacity in New Zealand.”

Nair said the new production platform was about making RNA technology accessible to Kiwi academics, scientists and Crown research institutes and private businesses to fast track RNA-based projects.

It has already borne fruit, according to Professor John Fraser, dean of medical and health sciences at the University of Auckland.

Fraser said an agreement between the university and BioCell to use the RapidNA technology was key to a successful bid to the US non-profit Welcome Leap fund for a Staphylococcal mRNA vaccine.

Callaghan Innovation group manager Simon Yarrow said BioCell used the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to increase its skills and apply its technology to something totally new.

“We’re proud to see this Kiwi technology now taking on an urgent global problem.”

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