McGill University and Moderna to expand collaborations with new projects in Lipid Nanoparticle research

Two projects will analyze characteristics of lipid nanoparticles as well as naturally occurring particles known as Extracellular Vesicles (EVs)

This story was written by McGill Newsroom, and originally published on McGill Health e-News.

On July 19, McGill University announced it has signed agreements with ModernaTX, Inc., a biotechnology company pioneering messenger RNA (mRNA) therapeutics and vaccines, to support two innovative research projects in the area of lipid nanoparticles (LNPs). LNPs are critical components in mRNA medicines such as vaccines, as they are the primary delivery method of mRNA strands to the target cells.

Recently, McGill and Moderna have been enhancing their collaborations across various areas. In March 2022, McGill became part of Moderna’s mRNA Access program, which aims to accelerate the development of new vaccines and medicines using mRNA technology for emerging and neglected infectious diseases.

“McGill has a rich pool of talent and internationally recognized research facilities dedicated to mRNA and nanoparticle sciences research, but in the global effort to develop novel therapies, collaboration between academia and industry is critical,” says Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “With Moderna’s support, these two highly specialized research projects have the potential to accelerate the application of LNPs in the development and delivery of mRNA therapies for a range of diseases.”

“As a company committed to advancing research and innovation, Moderna is proud to be a growing part of Canada’s strong and vibrant scientific ecosystem. We recognize the tremendous potential of the mRNA and nanoparticle-focused expertise emerging out of McGill and are investing in these two specialized LNP projects over the next couple of years,” says Patricia Gauthier, President and General Manager, Moderna Canada. “By collaborating with leading academic institutions like McGill, we are confident that we can continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in this rapidly emerging field and ultimately improve the lives of patients through mRNA science.”

The following are the two projects selected for funding by Moderna:

Project 1: Optimization of mRNA delivery vehicles based on extracellular particles

Dr. Julia Burnier, Assistant Professor, Departments of Oncology and Pathology at McGill and Scientist in the Cancer Research Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC), is investigating ways to enhance the cell-specific delivery of cargo like mRNA. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are naturally occurring nanoparticles that are released by virtually all cells and can deliver cargo to specific cells. Her research aims to develop a cell delivery system using microfluidics that emulates the activity of EVs, which could help optimize delivery to targeted recipient cells. This offers the possibility of developing therapies beyond vaccines, such as in precision oncology and other illnesses. The project is scheduled to run for three years.

Project 2: Characterization and quality control of lipid nanoparticles

Dr. David Juncker, Professor and Chair, Department of Biomedical Engineering, is undertaking a study to characterize LNPs so that their specific size and payload distribution may be better understood. Standard techniques cannot simultaneously quantify the size and payload of individual LNPs, and thus often only averages are measured that mask individual variation and mask the relationship between size and payload. Using a new technique developed by his lab, the team will measure the size and payload of thousands of individual LNPs and verify how many LNPs carry a payload such as mRNAs for vaccines. The results will guide the optimization of LNP manufacturing and could be used for quality control for the manufacture of mRNA-based vaccines and therapeutics. The project will run for an initial one-year period.

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