UK: Oxford University said a malaria vaccine is 77% effective in early trials and could be a major breakthrough against the disease. Malaria kills more than 400,000 people annually, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa.
But even though many vaccines have been tested over the years, it is the first to reach the required target.
According to the researchers, this vaccine could have a significant impact on health. When 450 children were tested in Burkina Faso, the vaccine was found to be safe, and it showed a high level of efficacy during 12 months of follow-up.
More extensive trials in nearly 5,000 children between the ages of five months and three years will now be conducted in four African countries to confirm the findings.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bites to humans. Although preventable and curable, the World Health Organization estimates that in 2019 there were 229 million cases worldwide and 409,000 deaths.
The disease begins with symptoms such as fever, headache and chills and without treatment can quickly lead to serious illness and often death.
Study author Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute and professor of vaccination at the University of Oxford, said he believed the vaccine was the first to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of achieving at least 75% efficacy.
The most effective malaria vaccine to date has shown only 55% efficacy in trials on African children.
Trials with this malaria vaccine began in 2019, long before the coronavirus appeared, and the Oxford team developed its Covid vaccine (with AstraZeneca) based on its research on malaria, Prof Hill said.
A malaria vaccine took much longer to develop because there are thousands of genes in malaria compared to about a dozen coronaviruses, and a very high immune response is needed to fight the disease.
“This is a real technical challenge,” said Prof Hill. “The vast majority of vaccines have not worked because it is very difficult.”
However, he said that the trial results mean that the vaccine is ‘very developable’ and that it has a huge impact on health.
In a preliminary study with The Lancet, the research team – from Oxford, Nanoro in Burkina Faso and the USA – reported the test results of R21 / Matrix-M, after testing a low and high dose of the vaccine in children, between May and August, before the peak of the malaria season.
The vaccine showed 77% efficacy in the higher dose group and 71% in the lower dose group.
Halidou Tinto, professor of parasitology and lead investigator at the Nanoro Clinical Research Unit, Burkina Faso, said the results were “very exciting” and showed an unprecedented level of efficacy.
“We look forward to the upcoming ‘Phase III’ trial to demonstrate large-scale safety and efficacy data for a vaccine that is much needed in this region.”
In Africa, there have been more malaria deaths than coronavirus in recent years.
The Serum Institute of India, which manufactured the vaccine, says it is confident of delivering more than 200 million doses of the vaccine once it is approved by regulators.
The biotechnology company Novavax provided the tool for the vaccine, an ingredient used to create a stronger immune response.
Malaria is one of the leading causes of infant mortality in Africa and prof. Burkina Faso Health Minister Charlemagne Ouédraogo said the new data showed that a new malaria vaccine could be licensed ‘in the coming years’.
“It would be an extremely important new tool to control malaria and save many lives,” he said.