Malaria vaccine group unveils new blueprint for developers

A World Health Organization–led group spearheading the development of the world's first malaria vaccines today announced new goals, which include cutting infections 75% by 2030 with a licensed vaccine and a wish list for next-generation vaccines.

The new malaria vaccine technology roadmap, an update on a similar one published in 2006, was unveiled today in Washington, DC, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, according to a statement from the group posted on EurekAlert.

Three members of the group also introduced the malaria vaccine roadmap in a letter published today in The Lancet.

An international focus on malaria control measures over the past decade has helped reduce the malaria death rate by 26%, but the burden of the disease is still significant, according to the WHO. Malaria sickens 219 million people each year and leads to about 660,000 deaths, according to its latest estimates.

So far there is no malaria vaccine, but one—RTS,S/AS01—is in advanced clinical trials, and final results could be available by 2015.

The candidate vaccine, under development since 1992, contains an AS01 adjuvant and is given in three doses. The vaccine targets the circumsporozoite protein, which paves the way for liver invasion, the parasite's first step in infecting human hosts. Trials in children have shown that it halved cases in older babies but offered somewhat less protection in younger ones.

In October the vaccine's developer, GlaxoSmithKline, reported more promising findings in children and said it would submit a regulatory application for it to the European Medicines Agency.

Robert D. Newman, MD, MPH, who directs the WHO's global malaria program, said in the statement that safe, affordable vaccines could play a critical role in defeating malaria. "Despite all the recent progress countries have made, and despite important innovations in diagnostics, drugs and vector control, the global burden of malaria remains unacceptably high," he said.

The new roadmap leaves in place an earlier goal to have a partly effective vaccine in place by 2015. However, the new one raises the bar by setting two strategic goals: having vaccines in place by 2030 that can help achieve malaria elimination in multiple settings and having vaccines that are highly effective against the disease.

The updated plan is intended as a blueprint for second-generation vaccine development, which would target the Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax parasites. The goals include 75% efficacy against clinical malaria, safety for use in at-risk groups, and reduced transmission of the parasite.

In the Lancet report, the authors said the WHO will help vaccine developers by publishing documents that detail preferred product characteristics, which should help reduce risk and uncertainty for the companies. They said the WHO expects to publish two of those product profiles by the end of 2014.

The WHO said in a separate statement today that the roadmap reflects changes in the epidemiology and control of the disease since the first document was published. It said the Malaria Vaccine Funders Group assisted with the update.

See also:

Nov 14 EurekAlert press release

Nov 14 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap

Nov 14 WHO statement

Nov 14 Lancet letter

Oct 8 CIDRAP News item "GSK reports malaria vaccine follow-up, eyes regulatory application"

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