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New research network for next-generation active ingredients

Veit Hornung, Karl-Peter Hopfner and Marion Subklewe are members of the future cluster of LMU and TUM for research and development of RNA-based therapeutics


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 Professor Thomas Carell, Director of the Institute of Chemical Epigenetics at LMU, a renowned RNA chemist, and Professor Stefan Engelhardt, Director of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), who is specialized in RNA-based therapies. 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. The groups from the Gene Center and BioSysM (Karl-Peter Hopfner, Veit Hornung, Marion Subklewe), together with project partners, are developing nucleic acid-based agents and multifunctional antibody conjugates for the treatment of cancers.

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 loading (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.

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.