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“We believe RNA will be the foundation stone for many other biotechnological advancements. We want the biggest players in that space to be based in Sydney.”

The research network will be led by UNSW in partnership with The University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University, Australian National University and the Kirby Institute, Westmead Institute of Medical Research and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.

Mr Ayres said attracting pharmaceutical giants such as Moderna to NSW would ultimately create jobs, with the potential to bring hundreds of millions of dollars worth of export value.

“You want the businesses driving changes in technology to be in your state. The same way we convinced Atlassian to stay in NSW, the same way we worked with Amazon to launch its distribution network in western Sydney,” he said.

“We need to tell those businesses [that] NSW is the best place to invest capital, and the single biggest influencer for them when they decide where to grow their business is workforce talent”.

Director of the UNSW RNA Institute Pall Thordarson, who will lead the network of universities, said the breadth of the scientific workforce in the state was unique, with current initiatives “broader than anyone has seen in this RNA research space.”

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The network has been tasked with producing RNA materials for use in pre-clinical studies to assist in the COVID-19 response and beyond.

It will oversee three pilot projects: RNA anti-viral treatments for COVID-19, nasal or lung delivery treatments for COVID-19 in the form of a puffer or inhaler and a treatment for a genetic disorder using mRNA and viral vector technology.

Professor Thordarson said, whether Moderna or anyone else, a global biotech firm would first and foremost seek “unique scientific talent,” which was enhanced by the collaboration of universities.

“It’s fair to say the financial crisis [that] universities have gone through has changed the thinking. We need to work more together. I’ve been an academic for more than a decade and I feel I’ve seen a tectonic shift,” he said,

NSW Chief Scientist Hugh Durrant-Whyte said securing local production of mRNA technology was not only about developing COVID-19 vaccines or boosters, but the advancements it would bring to treatments for other viruses, hepatitis and cancer.

“To have a sovereign capacity in the future is important because the use of RNA is much broader than COVID. It just happens to be the first major application of the technology,” he said. “Without COVID, this might have otherwise taken 5 or 10 years to happen.”

Before the pandemic, Moderna was “just a startup company,” he said, “but it now holds some of the most important IP in the world”.

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