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BioNTech to establish clinical-scale mRNA manufacturing facility at La Trobe University

La Trobe University will be home to the manufacturing of new investigational mRNA therapies for serious diseases including cancer, with global biotechnology company BioNTech planning to develop and commission a state-of-the-art mRNA clinical-scale manufacturing facility at the University’s Melbourne campus in Bundoora, in an agreement facilitated by the Victorian Government.

BioNTech is focused on utilising the potential of the immune system by developing investigational immunotherapeutic treatment methods including mRNA-based vaccine candidates, to fight cancer and other diseases. Together with its partner, Pfizer, the company also developed the world’s first approved COVID-19 vaccine, known as Comirnaty ® (BNT162b2) where approved for use under full or conditional marketing authorisation.

The planned facility at La Trobe is intended to support researchers to develop investigational mRNA-based treatment options as well as manufacture investigational candidates for clinical trials in the Asia-Pacific region.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan and Victorian Minister for Economic Growth Tim Pallas today joined BioNTech’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr Sierk Poetting, La Trobe Chancellor the Hon John Brumby AO and La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO, at La Trobe to announce the location of BioNTech’s planned manufacturing facility.

The Victorian Government also announced funding to establish a new Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation (CAMI) at La Trobe, which will develop and apply innovative AI solutions and provide pathway opportunities for researchers and students in this rapidly evolving field. The Centre will sit alongside the planned BioNTech facility.

Premier Jacinta Allan said: “This partnership means more mRNA expertise in our state, more treatments for people with hard-to-treat cancers – and 1,200 more local jobs.”

Minister for Economic Growth Tim Pallas said: “This is a coup that cements our standing as a global destination for biotechnology investment, research and talent, and ensures we remain at the forefront of mRNA innovation.”

La Trobe Chancellor the Hon John Brumby AO described the investment as ‘truly groundbreaking’ and a huge step forward for La Trobe and Victoria.

“La Trobe is the perfect location for these facilities, with our world-leading capability in infection and immunology as well as in AI and digital innovation. We are establishing La Trobe as a thriving innovation precinct, well placed to support biotechnology research and innovation activities in Melbourne,” Mr Brumby said.

“Establishing the planned mRNA facility and Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation within La Trobe’s University City of the Future in Melbourne’s north locates them in an area surrounded by high tech industry, manufacturing, and healthcare.”

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said he was delighted that La Trobe had been selected as the location for BioNTech’s planned facility and as home to the new Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation at the University.

“The planned BioNTech manufacturing mRNA facility will connect groundbreaking research and developments in mRNA vaccines and therapies with La Trobe’s research expertise, building on our already established national and global partnerships in cancer, cardiovascular and infectious disease,” Professor Dewar said.

“Complementing the planned facility, the Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation will apply La Trobe’s world-leading expertise in AI and health to mRNA technology, helping accelerate the development of cancer vaccines and treatments.”

“The strategic partnership focuses on the empowerment of innovations in the field of mRNA by providing high-tech manufacturing capabilities and expertise to curate encouraging projects for further development,” Sierk Poetting, Ph.D., Chief Operating Officer of BioNTech said.

“The BioNTainers we will be delivering are a lighthouse project tailored to the needs of the local mRNA ecosystem. The material manufactured there will support preclinical and clinical development of mRNA-based medicines.”

BioNTech co-founders Professor Uğur Şahin, Chief Executive Officer, and Professor Özlem Türeci, Chief Medical Officer, who visited La Trobe in October, said they chose Victoria for their Australian clinical manufacturing base because the State is highly active in mRNA research.

“The planned BioNTech facility will establish La Trobe as a centre of a new mRNA technology, providing access not only to its own researchers but also access to collaborators from across Australia and the world,” Professor Şahin said.

Professor Türeci said establishing the BioNTech facility at La Trobe aligned with the University’s focus on research and development.

“Giving access to the newest, evolving technologies for mRNA treatment, will allow researchers here in Melbourne and Victoria to make a significant contribution to mRNA vaccine and therapy development,” Professor Türeci said.

BioNTech and La Trobe University will also explore opportunities for La Trobe students to gain experience with BioNTech scholarships and fellowships and other like arrangements.

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About the Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation (CAMI)

Complementing the planned BioNTech mRNA manufacturing facility will be a new Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation (CAMI), supported by Victorian Government funding.

La Trobe’s Research Chair of AI Professor Wei Xiang, who will lead CAMI, said the new Centre, in partnership with the Victorian Government and BioNTech, will be the world’s first university research centre to specialise in the application of cutting-edge AI to the Nobel Prize-winning mRNA technology.

“La Trobe is already world-leading in AI and digital innovation, including applying AI to disease modelling and using AI to predict and model the impact of treatment on cancer growth,” Professor Xiang said.

“The Victorian Centre for AI in Medical Innovation will greatly speed up the process of translating medical breakthroughs into cost-effective and widely-accessible, personalised cancer vaccines and treatments.”

Professor Wenny Rahayu, Dean of La Trobe’s School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, said the new Victorian Centre AI in Medical Innovation will create a talent pipeline, honing specialised skills and supporting career growth, in partnership with industries including BioNTech.  

“The new Centre will add AI capabilities to Victoria’s scientific and medical research workforce, through co-creation of AI programs across the biology, health and biomedical disciplines,” Professor Rahayu said.

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