Mr Porter emphasised that the mRNA manufacturing plan would go beyond COVID-19 vaccines because the technology could also be used to develop treatments for cancer, HIV, influenza, hepatitis and other illnesses.
He signalled he wanted to look at companies or collaborations in Australia that were developing their own intellectual property or had access to it from others and were capable of completing all the steps in mRNA production.
“While many others are now pursuing mRNA, the development of additional new mRNA products takes time, is complex, difficult and the nature of pharmaceutical human trials is that only a few potential products that show promise will succeed through to approved use,” he said in a statement to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
“Whilst the current focus of mRNA is around the current COVID pandemic, the enduring benefit for Australia in establishing onshore mRNA manufacturing will be more aligned to future variants of COVID-19 or other pathogens.
“But just as importantly it is also about the use of mRNA to tackle other serious health issues, which is where Australians can really benefit as the technology is applied to disease.”
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have manufacturing agreements in China and Singapore, which hopes to produce mRNA from 2023. Moderna announced an agreement with the Canadian government ten days ago and said it was talking to other countries about similar deals.
Another mRNA contender, CureVac, has an agreement with a manufacturer in its home country of Germany but announced results last month showing its vaccine is only 48 per cent effective, too low for commercial production.
A fourth company, Arcturus Therapeutics of the US, appears to be further away from releasing a viable vaccine.
The federal government plan seeks to develop local manufacturing for a COVID-19 vaccine, booster shots and wider mRNA treatments, with the possibility of all three.