Vaccine trial shows promise in fight against malaria

26 April 2021 | Muriel Cozier

‘…the vaccine has the potential to have major public health impact if licensure is achieved.’

Sunday, 25 April 2021, was World Malaria Day. The disease is reported to kill 800 000 people each year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa where one in five childhood deaths is associated with malaria. However, a new weapon looks to set to have a significant impact; with researchers from Oxford University, and their partners, having completed a Phase IIb trial of candidate malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, which demonstrated high-level efficacy of 77% over 12-months of follow-up.

The vaccine was trialled in 450 children, in Burkina Faso, showing a favourable safety profile and being well tolerated. The findings have been published in Reprints with The Lancet The vaccine is said to be the first to achieve the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap goal of a vaccine with at least 75% efficacy.

The researchers, in collaboration with Serum Institute of India and Novavax, have now started recruitment for a Phase III licensure trial to assess large-scale safety and efficacy in 4800 children aged 5-36 months across four African countries.

Adrian Hill, Director of the Jenner Institute and Lakshmi Mittal and Family Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and co-author of the paper said: ‘These new results support our high expectations for the potential of this vaccine, which we believe is the first to reach the WHO’s goal of a vaccine for malaria with at least 75% efficacy. With the commitment of our commercial partner, the Serum Institute of India, to manufacture at least 200 million doses annually in the coming years, the vaccine has the potential to have major public health impact if licensure is achieved.’

Professor Alkassoum Maiga, Minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation in Burkina Faso said: ‘[I] hope that the upcoming phase III trial will confirm these exciting findings and that this vaccine could have a real impact on this disease affecting millions of children every year.’

Marking World Malaria Day, the WHO has launched a report summarizing actions taken and lessons learned in a number of countries since 2017 to reach zero malaria cases by 2020 in the so called E-2020 initiative. This project has now been re-launched as the E-2025 initiative, in which the WHO has identified 25 countries that have the potential to stamp out malaria within a 5-year time frame. ‘These 25 countries will receive specialised support and technical guidance as they work towards the target of zero malaria,’ the WHO said. 

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