Malaria vaccine trial raises hopes of overcoming disease

A trial of a new malaria vaccine from the University of Oxford says it is 77% effective – significantly better than existing vaccines at preventing one of the world’s deadliest diseases.

The vaccine, known as R21, is the first that could exceed the World Health Organization’s goal of having a vaccine available with at least 75% effectiveness by 2030. Mosquirix, the first malaria vaccine initially deployed in 2015, took GSK over 30 years to develop and was around 39 percent effective over four years.

In the phase 2b – mid-stage – trial of R21, participants in a higher dose group were 77% less likely to develop malaria at 12-month follow-up than those who received a rabies vaccine as a control. People who received a lower dose of the vaccine adjuvant were 71% less likely to develop the disease. There were no serious side effects.

The study inoculated 450 children aged 5 months to 17 months in Burkina Faso.

Oxford researchers, which works with the Serum Institute of India and the American vaccine manufacturer Novavax, have already launched a phase 3 trial to test the vaccine in a larger population. Existing participants also received a booster injection.

The recombinant fusion protein vaccine combines an antigen that signals to the immune system with the adjuvant Matrix-M from Novavax to increase efficacy. Novavax also uses the adjuvant in its Covid-19 vaccine, which according to a phase 3 trial is 89% effective.

Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute in Oxford, which contributed to the development of the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, co-author of the draft document outlining the data from the R21 trial, said the new results supported his “ high expectations ”for the vaccine.

“With the commitment of our business partner, the Serum Institute of India, to manufacture at least 200 million doses per year in the coming years, the vaccine has the potential to have a major impact on public health if the homologation is obtained, ”he said.

Malaria causes more than 400,000 deaths per year, mostly among children in Africa. Some 229 million clinical cases of the disease were reported in 2019.

But it has been difficult to find a vaccine to fight the disease, with more than 100 candidates screened in clinical trials.

Halidou Tinto, regional director of the Health Sciences Research Institute in Burkina Faso’s Nanoro department and principal investigator of the trial, said he was eager to demonstrate large-scale efficacy in the phase trial 3.

“These are very exciting results showing unprecedented levels of efficacy of a vaccine that was well tolerated in our testing program,” he said.

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