DNA to RNA (D2R) | Dossiers | McGill University

DNA to RNA (D2R)

An inclusive Canadian approach to RNA therapeutics

McGill University is proud to announce it has been awarded $165 million from the Canadian Government through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) to pursue its world leading genomically-driven RNA therapeutics research initiative. The largest research grant in McGill’s history, the D2R initiative leverages McGill’s decades-long expertise in DNA and RNA research to develop the next generation of RNA medicines. With the goal of developing novel therapeutics for viral infections, cancer, and rare diseases, we aim to help restore Canada’s capacity in biopharmaceutical production, while also ensuring the treatments are shared equitably. 

Here is a look at McGill’s game-changing research and the people behind the science.

A close-up of a part of a DNA strand, featuring McGill's redworld treatment

The RNA revolution

Decades of research dedicated to RNA science made the rapid development and roll-out of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines possible. McGill University played a crucial role in this history of innovation — and more breakthroughs are on the horizon.

Together with our world-leading capacities in genomic science, McGill’s researchers are developing new RNA-based treatments for a range of diseases alongside a global community of scientists. The University is ensuring these therapies protect human health for all by engaging with diverse populations, Indigenous communities, and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly.

A close-up image of empty glass vials

Meet the leaders in RNA research

McGill researchers have been uncovering the mechanisms and potential of RNA for over 50 years. From genomics and RNA biology to medicine and biomanufacturing, our research strengths cover the range of expertise needed to discover gene targets and develop new treatments for disease.

In the social sciences, our researchers are working to ensure that developments in RNA medicine benefit all communities, including the vulnerable and medically underserved. The University launched the McGill Centre for RNA Sciences (MCRS) in 2022 to bring these interdisciplinary teams together.

Close-up of a woman with dark features who is wearing a blue medical mask

Developing the medicines of the future

The global pandemic introduced the world to a new form of vaccines composed of “messenger RNA” (mRNA) which harness the flow of genetic information (RNA or DNA) to treat the root cause of disease. The success of the mRNA vaccines, and the speed of their development, is one example how RNA discovery can revolutionize medicine.

At McGill, diverse and talented research teams are working to understand the role of RNA across different fields, including biology, chemistry, and biomedical sciences. Our researchers are investigating how new RNA-based therapies can treat a variety of diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, cancer and more.

Supporting Canada's biomanufacturing ecosystem

Revitalizing Canada’s biopharmaceutical industry is an urgent priority. Together with industry and government, McGill is working to build a nexus of RNA-based drug manufacturing in Canada. Scientific expertise, a strong history of start-ups in health research, and countless collaborations with companies including Moderna, Merck, Lilly, Novartis, Roche, Astra-Zeneca, GSK, Takeda, Pfizer, Vertex and Janssen, and others, make McGill an ideal partner in Canada’s drive to develop talent and grow our domestic biomanufacturing capacity.

Health equity through innovation and collaboration

With the promise of new therapies comes the responsibility to achieve diverse representation in research and equitable access to the fruits of that research. McGill is committed to meaningful engagement, improved transparency, and robust systems of accountability. Our priority is to create opportunities that promote and support equity-seeking populations, including Canada’s Indigenous communities, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly.