Abu Dhabi and Australia sign agreement on mRNA science and research

The collaboration will explore clinical trial opportunities and areas for private sector investment

Abu Dhabi and Australia have signed an agreement to grow the global RNA ecosystem and develop future Covid-19 treatments.

The agreement was signed by Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, Undersecretary of Department of Health – Abu Dhabi and Michael Kapel, chief executive of mRNA Victoria, an Australian government initiative.

The UAE and Australia will identify areas of interest related to mRNA research, initiate collaborations and knowledge exchange and identify early-stage research investment opportunities.

mRNA technology made headlines when the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines were approved for use, first in the US, and then globally, during the pandemic.

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With the signing of this, we look forward to seeing advancements in mRNA-based therapeutics research and strengthening the capabilities of the international healthcare system
Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, Department of Health – Abu Dhabi

Many vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into our bodies to trigger an immune response.

But with mRNA technology, scientists tackle disease by borrowing the body’s natural protein-building software.

The idea is to use this software, or messenger RNA (mRNA), to create exact replicas of a known enemy such as the distinctive spike of the novel coronavirus.

That way, the immune system learns to recognise its foe and will be ready for battle when it meets the real thing.

Experts believe mRNA could change the future of medicine and healthcare.

The collaboration will explore clinical trial opportunities and areas for private sector investment in Abu Dhabi and Victoria state in Australia.

With a focus on the development of the RNA ecosystem, both sides will be able to identify prospective partners and collaborate with organisations seeking to develop and licence RNA-based therapeutics and treatments.

A steering committee of members from the Department of Health and mRNA Victoria will be set up to ensure alignment and effective execution of projects.

“We are always open to forward-thinking and innovative collaborations with leading global partners, such as the state of Victoria," said Dr Al Kaabi.

"With the signing of this, we look forward to seeing advancements in mRNA-based therapeutics research and strengthening the capabilities of the international healthcare system so that we are better prepared for future pandemics and health crises."

Jaala Pulford, Minister for Innovation, Medical Research and the Digital Economy, in the government of Victoria said: “This agreement signifies a global collaboration to share knowledge, information and expertise within the ecosystem supporting supply chains research and development for pre and clinical research, commercialisation and manufacturing investments.”

In the past five years, Abu Dhabi doubled its research capabilities and developed several scientific, clinical and research programmes. These exceeded the number of projects carried out during the previous five years.

The Department of Health also launched the Covid-19 Research Registry, a platform that supports scientific research and discoveries related to the virus and disease. The registry has received 386 scientific papers. Of these, 340 papers have been approved and 46 were published.

What is RNA?

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is a molecule that plays a central role in the function of genes.

After the success of mRNA Covid-19 vaccines, experts believe that the technology can be used to unlock the root causes of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Diseases including cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and cystic fibrosis could all be targeted by mRNA-based treatments or preventive vaccines.

mRNA and other forms of RNA, such as siRNA, miRNA and gRNA, also have huge potential in medicine beyond vaccines.

It can also be used in the biotechnology and agricultural sectors.

How does it work?

Although mRNA can be made artificially, it is not a human invention, because it plays a central role in the production of proteins from an organism’s genes.

Consisting of a single strand of ribonucleic acid (RNA), mRNA is where genes (which in people are made from deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA) are copied inside the nucleus of cells.

The mRNA travels into the liquid area outside the nucleus, the cytoplasm, where, in a process called translation, it codes for the production of a protein.

The sequence of amino acids (protein building blocks) that make up this protein is determined by the sequence of the base pairs or repeating units of the mRNA.

When mRNA is administered as a vaccine or other therapeutic substance, it too ends up in cells, where translation takes place and proteins are produced.

With Covid-19 vaccines, these proteins are coronavirus spike proteins, the immune response to which offers protection if the person is subsequently infected with the virus.

Updated: March 14, 2022, 12:26 PM