Technical University of Munich: New research network for RNA-based drugs

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will fund a so-called future cluster for research and development into RNA-based therapeutics. The network is led by researchers from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU). It is designed to bring together basic research with pharmaceutical companies and start-ups in the Munich region.

The novel coronavirus vaccines have highlighted the tremendous potential of vaccines and other drugs based on RNA. Now researchers in Munich are seeking to further advance the development of active ingredients with such nucleic acid building blocks and are establishing a so-called future cluster in Munich for this purpose. They have been awarded funding by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to pursue this goal.

The Cluster for Nucleic Acid Therapeutics Munich (C-NATM), an innovation network made up of research institutions and private enterprise, will receive five million euros in funding annually from the German government, the Free State of Bavaria and in part from participating companies. On the condition that it passes an interim evaluation, the project will run for nine years. The spokespersons for the alliance are Prof. Stefan Engelhardt, Director of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at TUM, who is specialized in RNA-based therapies and Prof. Thomas Carell, Director of the Institute of Chemical Epigenetics at LMU, a renowned RNA chemist. In addition to staff from various disciplines at LMU and TUM, researchers from other research institutions and experts from pharmaceutical companies and start-ups from the region are also taking part in the initiative.

Hope for new therapeutic approaches
C-NATM will create a network from which novel nucleic-acid-based active ingredients and next-generation vaccines are to be developed. Before now, it has chiefly been the delivery of nucleic acids and their stabilization that have obstructed drug development. Recent developments provide hope that the ability to design nucleic acids in a highly specific and theoretically predictable fashion will open up brand new therapeutic approaches in medicine. There is no substance class that suits personalized medicine better than nucleic acids, say the researchers. The future cluster will seek to help nucleic acid therapies make a breakthrough across a broad front.

“Nucleic-acid-based drugs offer huge potential for medicine. We’re very confident that in the near future they will be used to treat numerous diseases that have thus far been difficult to treat or for which no therapies have existed,” says Stefan Engelhardt. “Having developed the first mRNA vaccine, Germany currently has a slight edge in mRNA vaccine development,” says Thomas Carell. “With this new cluster, we can help Germany maintain or even extend this lead. In conjunction with industrial partners, C-NATM will establish a highly innovative and leading industrial center of expertise worldwide in the field of nucleic acid therapeutics.” The new cluster C-NATM is one of seven future clusters that have just been successful in the second round of the two-stage Clusters4Future competition organized by the BMBF. Originally, 117 applications were submitted. In the first round of awards in October 2021, seven future clusters were also launched. The future clusters connect Germany’s cutting-edge research with questions of applicability at an early stage and set innovation processes swiftly in motion. This is facilitated greatly by the existence of partnership structures within a compact geographical space.