The team behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has begun working on a new vaccine to combat malaria. The vaccine, R21, is being tested for its ability to trigger an antibody response. The team has said that its jab is the 'best yet' for preventing the disease.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca team is applying for pre-qualification status for the vaccine, meaning the jab could be used in malaria outbreaks globally. 20 million doses are already stored in a refrigerated warehouse in Pune, India, awaiting the approval from WHO. If approved, it would become the second vaccine to combat malaria, with GSK’s RTS,S jab being the first malaria vaccine to gain this approval.
Vaccination against malaria has been especially difficult due to the parasite’s complex life cycle and the way it is able to avoid detection by the immune system.
Professor Katie Ewer, professor of vaccine immunology at the Jenner Institute, commented: “The real trick… is to make the vaccine target the parasite [early in the] life cycle, to stop people getting sick in the first place. We’re blocking the parasites before there are millions circulating in the blood, or an infection takes hold in your liver.”
Data from the trial looks positive so far: 450 volunteers in Burkina Faso have been dosed, showing that R21 was 77% effective against the disease in areas where malaria is seasonal. It also appears that with a booster dose a year after the initial three jabs, efficacy remained at 80%. There were no safety concerns raised around the vaccine.
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