Oxford scientists hopeful for successful trial of malaria jab

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The scientists who developed the University of Oxford coronavirus jab are hopeful that their vaccine against malaria will be able to bring the mosquito-borne disease under control and possibly eradicate it within 20 years. The Independent reports that Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, said his team was “very excited” by the prospects of their vaccine, which is “looking good” in providing protection against malaria.

Large-scale testing of the jab starts this month, with up to 5,000 children across five different sites in east and west Africa set to be recruited into the phase three trial. The study is expected to last for a minimum of two years.

Hill, whose research alongside professor Sarah Gilbert set the foundations for the Oxford COVID jab, said malaria has killed five times more people than coronavirus in Africa over the past year. His vaccine against the tropical disease has already undergone its phase one and two testing, the data of which “looks exciting”.

A paper outlining these results is due to be published in the coming weeks. “Thatʼs why weʼre going into phase three,” Hill said, marking the second only time in history that a vaccine candidate for malaria has reached this stage of development. “Itʼs going very well.”

The Independent reports that scientists have been trying to produce a jab against malaria, caused by the Plasmodium parasite, since 1907. But despite more than one centuryʼs worth of research, few have come as close as Hill and his team.

Although GlaxoSmithKline has succeeded in taking its approved vaccine into a piloted implementation programme in Africa, the jab has been plagued by nagging efficacy concerns. Four doses offer only 30 per cent protection against severe malaria, for no more than four years.

The vaccine includes a minuscule “complex” protein taken from the malaria parasite which is then presented to the bodyʼs immune system. A strong agent called an adjuvant is also used to enhance and strengthen the subsequent response.

“This really is a very potent vaccine technology,” Hill said. “What weʼve found in malaria over the years is that you can get some protection, but itʼs for weeks or months and then it really tails off very quickly.”

 

Full report in The Independent (Open access)


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