McGill University: McGill University joins Moderna in battle against global health threats

McGill University has joined Moderna’s mRNA Access program, which aims to accelerate innovation and enable new vaccines and medicines for emerging and neglected infectious diseases through collaborative research and preclinical development. McGill is the first university in Canada to join this program as it ramps up its international rollout.

“This partnership is a sign of McGill’s strength in core research that changes lives,” said Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research & Innovation. “We are an acknowledged leader in mRNA, and joining this platform will help us develop vaccines that will protect human health everywhere on the planet.”

“Moderna’s goal is to create a global community of scientists who leverage our mRNA vaccine technology to develop innovative approaches to address emerging and neglected infectious diseases that pose a risk to public health,” said Hamilton Bennett, Senior Director of Vaccine Access and Partnerships, Moderna. “We look forward to working with McGill and our other global partners to prevent future pandemics and help millions of people around the world.”

The on-going Covid-19 pandemic introduced the world to mRNA vaccine technology, which has quickly become a potent tool in the effort to contain this virus. However, mRNA research has the potential to provide effective vaccines for a panoply of illnesses, including emerging and neglected contagions.

The mRNA Access program offers researchers an inside track to rapidly prototyping and developing vaccine candidates by enabling institutional partners to use Moderna’s state-of-the-art antigen design capabilities. Promising candidates can be brought to a clinical trial stage more rapidly, offering a chance to shorten the development path and bring effective and safe solutions to the populations that need them.

Anne Gatignol, a senior investigator in the Department of Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology at the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research is one of the many McGill researchers who will leverage the new platform. The Gatignol lab has identified conserved elements in HIV RNA. Gatignol and her team intend to use Moderna’s mRNA Access platform to design novel HIV vaccine candidates based on HIV structural proteins.

“An effective vaccine against HIV remains a major unmet medical need,” said Gatignol. “The mRNA Access platform will allow the McGill community to rapidly develop mRNA vaccines against a wide variety of viral infections affecting low-income countries or the entire world, thereby improving global health.”

Another avenue enabled by the platform is the development of mRNA medicines against parasitic infections, such as Cryptosporidiosis – of which a major outbreak occurred in the USA in 1993 – or Schistosomiasis, a water-borne pathogen that affects more than 250 million people and threatens almost 1 billion people worldwide. These and other parasites are the focus of Momar Ndao, a Professor in the Department of Medicine and a Principal Investigator of the Infectious Diseases and Immunity in Global Health Program (MI4), Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.

“For example, there is no FDA approved medicine to treat immunocompromised individuals with Cryptosporidiosis,” explained Ndao. “But leveraging the mRNA Access platform offers us a chance to eliminate these diseases and save lives at a global scale, all without adverse effects on the body.”

This program provides an opportunity for Canadian researchers and talent to accelerate their research in key areas of public health and infectious disease, including the 15 priority pathogens identified by the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) as being persistent global health threats, but also in other research areas.

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