• Set for largest human trial of malaria vaccine in four African countries  

The world may just be a step away from getting a hold on malaria, a parasitic disease that kills about half a million people yearly, as one of the candidate vaccines under trial has shown significant protection for exposed individuals.

The candidate vaccine known as R21/Matrix-M, developed by scientists at Britain’s University of Oxford reportedly showed up to 77% efficacy in a year-long trial involving 450 children in Burkina Faso, setting the stage for a larger-scale human trials to test for uncommon side-effects.

This may be one good from the COVID-19 pandemic as the scientists behind the potential vaccine are led by Adrian Hill, Director of Oxford’s Jenner Institute who is one of the lead researchers behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

In a report, Hill said they are now set to conduct final stage trials in 4,800 children aged between 5 months and 3 years in four African Countries.

Hill who is upbeat about the potential of this vaccine said it would be the first against malaria to reach the World Health Organization (WHO) goal of a malaria vaccine that offers at least 75% efficacy.

For decades, scientists around the world have been working to develop a vaccine to prevent malaria. The closest anyone could get until now was with Mosquirix, the world’s first and only licensed malaria vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L). This vaccine is still a far cry as over many years of clinical trials across several African countries showed that it was only partially effective at around 30%.

In the R21/Matrix-M trial in Burkina Faso, the 450 young children were divided into three groups. Two groups got three doses of the experimental vaccine along with either a low or a high dose of an adjuvant, an ingredient designed to super-charge the body’s response to a vaccine, while the third group was given a control vaccine.

Results, to be published by the researchers in The Lancet medical journal, showed efficacy of 77% in the high-dose adjuvant group and 74% among those who got the vaccine with a low-dose of adjuvant.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over 229 million cases of malaria, a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that were transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes were recorded in 2019, leading to the death of about  409,000 during the period.

In 2019, Africa was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths. This is as total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated US$ 3 billion in the year, with contributions from governments of endemic countries amounting to US$ 900 million, representing 31% of total funding. This highlights the effect of malaria on public health and countries’ economies.

 

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