COVID sparks search for effective malaria vaccine

Sopuruchi Onwuka

Riding on a wave of successes in rapid development of vaccines for the dreaded coronavirus disease, a number of global pharmaceutical giants have reactivated processes for research and development in production of vaccines that would also build human immunity against ancient killer diseases including malaria, tuberculosis and human immune-deficiency syndrome (HIV).

Combined together, the three diseases account for over 70 percent of vector responsible deaths across centuries.

The Oracle Today reports that the search for new vaccines would beam focus on malaria which the World Health Organization (WHO) describes as responsible for high rate of infant mortality in endemic regions of the world where poor countries with wealth health institutions have battled the mosquito transmitted disease without success.

Malaria vector, the mosquito

Malaria, a parasitic infection passed on to victims through the bite of infected mosquitoes, is specifically an African scourge, explaining why development of vaccine for the disease has been slow and unsupported with funding surge.

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With the prevailing inroads into rapid vaccine developments; researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute, BioNTech pharmaceutical group, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health are working on possibilities of improving on earlier works by GlaxoSmithKline on malaria vaccines.

Scientists say that the malaria parasite evades recognition by the immune system until critical damage has been wreaked across the period of incubation mass reproduction of the invading germs in the body of the victim.

A 2019 report of the WHO holds that malaria plagued some 229 million people and killed 409,000 of them in the year.  Out of the numbers, fatal toll on infants was 274,030 or 67 percent of the deaths; while Africa accounted for 215.3 million or 94 percent of total cases and deaths.

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It took GlaxoSmithKline several years to develop the only available malaria vaccine, Mosquirix. The vaccine is rated to be only 39 percent effective, but it provides basis for the kind of improvements being pursued by BioNtec-the German pharmaceutical group behind one of the most successful COVID-19 vaccines currently in use globally.

BioNTech which developed the first coronavirus jab with US company Pfizer is working to begin clinical trials for a “safe and highly effective malaria vaccine” by the end of 2022.

The company also has vaccines for 10 different diseases in its production line, and plans to run tests on a vaccine for tuberculosis and nine other different infectious diseases.

Biotech’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ugur Sahin said: “We are already working on HIV and tuberculosis, and malaria is the third big indication (disease) with a high unmet medical need. Mr Sahin said the goal is to develop a vaccine that makes the malaria parasite visible and attackable.

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“It has an incredible high number of people being infected every year, a high number of patients dying, a particularly severe disease and high mortality in small children.”

However, Mr Sahin pointed out that the project was at a very early stage and provides no guarantee of success.He added that the company believes it is “the perfect time to address this challenge” because of insights gained from developing an mRNA vaccine against COVID-19.

“The genome of Plasmodium, the parasite that causes malaria, is more complex than viruses,” cautioned Prakash Srinivasan, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute are also developing a potential new malaria vaccine that has shown promise in a year-long trial.

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