A booster dose of a new malaria vaccine maintains a high level of protection against the disease, an international research team assured the Journal on Thursday 8 September Lancet infectious diseases, raising hopes that this inexpensive vaccine could be mass-produced in a few years. This vaccine, developed by Oxford University scientists, could represent a game changer in the fight against the disease, the researchers said. Malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease, killed 627,000 people in 2020 alone – mostly African children.
Last year, another vaccine from British pharmaceutical giant GSK became the first malaria vaccine to be recommended for widespread use by the World Health Organization (WHO). Since then it has been passed on to more than a million children in Africa. However, research has shown that the effectiveness of GSK’s vaccine is around 60% and decreases dramatically over time, even with a booster dose. According to a study published last year, Oxford’s R21/Matrix-M vaccine was 77% effective in preventing malaria. This is the first time a vaccine has exceeded the 75% efficacy target set by the WHO.
For the study, 450 children aged 5 to 17 months in Burkina Faso – where malaria accounts for around 22% of all deaths – received three doses in 2019. They were divided into three groups: two received different doses of Matrix-M adjuvant, a vaccine ingredient patented by Novavax that is also used in the American biotechnology company’s Covid-19 vaccine; the third control group received a rabies vaccine.
Ahead of the 2020 rainy season (when malaria cases increase), 409 children returned for a booster shot. For the group that received the highest dose of the adjuvant, the vaccine’s effectiveness increased to 80%, according to the results of a phase 2 study published on Thursday. At the lowest dose, efficacy was 70%. Importantly, one month after receiving the booster shot, antimalarial antibodies returned to levels similar to those after the first dose received a year earlier, the study found.
200 million cans per year
“It’s fantastic to see such high potency after a single booster dose”, welcomed one of the study’s authors, Halidou Tinto, from the Burkina Faso Health Research Institute (IRSS). Mr Tinto, who was involved in testing both malaria vaccines, said GSK’s vaccine had an optimal efficacy of around 60%. “I can therefore confirm that R21 [le vaccin d’Oxford] is much more effectivehe said at a press conference.
“We could see a very substantial reduction in this horrific burden of malaria, a reduction in deaths and disease, in the coming years, certainly by 2030.”, said Adrian Hill, a vaccines specialist in Oxford and co-author of the study. According to him, a 70 percent reduction in malaria deaths could be achieved within that timeframe, thanks in part to the large number of vaccine doses that could be manufactured quickly.
Oxford has partnered with the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. This last “Wants to and able to produce 200 million cans per year from next year”said Mr Hill. It’s not the 6 to 10 million doses that GSK can produce per year “not enough for 40 million children who need four doses in the first year”, he said. And the Oxford vaccine would likely cost a few dollars a dose, less than half the $9 for GSK’s version, he added.
Results from a phase 3 trial involving 4,800 participants in four countries are expected later this year and could potentially lead to approval of the vaccine.
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