The Government is putting more than $40m toward research into the same technology that underpins Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine – but outside that, commentators aren't excited by Budget 2022's science spend.
A total $40.7m, allocated over four years, was targeted at boosting research around RNA technology, with funding for new collaborations here and overseas, clinical testing and boosting capability.
Research, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Megan Woods said tech surrounding RNA – or ribonucleic acid, which is present in all living cells and has structural similarities to DNA – was "potentially transformative".
"We have already seen the important impact it can make through the development of safe and effective vaccines for Covid-19 to protect those who live here in Aotearoa New Zealand," she said.
"There is also a lot of potential to produce new vaccines, treatments and diagnostics that support wellbeing and better health outcomes in other areas such as cancer, and autoimmune and neurological disorders."
It could also support new applications for animal health, agriculture and aquaculture, she said.
"This investment is especially important to build our ability domestically to respond to future pandemics should we need to."
Research, Science and Innovation Minister Associate Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall added New Zealand sometimes needed vaccines that couldn't be sourced from global suppliers, such as for meningococcal disease or rheumatic fever.
The new RNA platform will be run through Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE's) Strategic Science Investment Fund, which received about $267m for programmes.
New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) co-president Dr Lucy Stewart was also pleased to see a meaningful boost to the Health Research Fund – which gets a bump from $97.7m to $121m – and commitments in the climate space.
"It is also good to see that the Agriculture Emissions Reduction initiative explicitly includes mātauranga Māori in its mandate."
But overall, she felt the Budget was an "uneventful if not mediocre" one for the research community.
Stewart said research funding was otherwise flat, or with increases that'd barely cover inflation - particularly with the premier blue sky research fund, the Marsden Fund, with an estimated $74.7m compared with $78.5m last Budget.
"What this means in practical terms is that less research will be done and fewer researchers will be able to stay in Aotearoa," she said.
"In particular there is nothing here that will particularly change circumstances for early career researchers."
Former NZAS president and MacDiarmid Institute co-director Professor Nicola Gaston similarly didn't see any big wins for science, research and innovation.
"The investment in RNA technologies is welcome, it is a sensible place for strategic investment of the sort supported by MBIE's strategic investment processes, but it will be relevant to a very small proportion of the scientific ecosystem in New Zealand," she said.
"My concerns remain the same as I expressed last year: in the face of inflation, the financial support for research in New Zealand, across our universities and Crown research institutes (CRIs), is steadily eroding and has been doing so for some time.
"To bring this down to the human scale, perhaps a simple example is best: the Marsden Fund recently increased its level of funding for PhD research stipends by 25 per cent, to a value of $35,000 per annum tax free, a welcome shift after many years of inflation having resulted in PhD researchers being paid less than the minimum wage.
"However such increases, as necessary as they are, do mean that fewer researchers will be trained and less research will be done.
"This needs urgent attention – not new funding schemes, but simply across the board increases in bread and butter funding mechanisms that provide the oil needed for our research sector to keep running."