World Malaria Day is commemorated on 25 April every year to recognize the global efforts to increase public awareness and eradicate malaria. This year’s theme is “Time to Deliver Zero Malaria: Invest, Innovate, Implement.” Significant strides have been made towards this goal in recent years due to the emergence of the first prophylactic vaccines for malaria. The R&D landscape also remains active with around 90 additional vaccines in development according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.
Often accompanied by a fever and flu-like symptoms, malaria is a life-threatening parasitic infection that is spread by the bites of mosquitoes carrying the Plasmodium parasite, of which there are several species. In 2021, the WHO reported an estimated 247 million cases of malaria globally leading to 619,000 deaths, the majority of which occurred in children under the age of 5.
However, in October 2021, the world’s first malaria vaccine, GSK’s Mosquirix, received World Health Organization (WHO) recommendation for broad use among children living in regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. Mosquirix was developed to lower the disease’s prevalence in children, primarily those under the age of five. The P. falciparum and hepatitis B proteins are fragments that are bonded together to form the vaccine, which is given in four doses.
Nusrat Haque, Infectious Disease Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “The approval of Mosquirix represented a revolutionary development in the field. The vaccine targets the P. falciparum parasite specifically, one of the most prominent strains that often causes severe disease. Mosquirix has the potential to significantly reduce malarial disease throughout regions of moderate to high P. falciparum transmission.”
Another P. falciparum-targeting vaccine, R-21/ Matrix-M, developed by the University of Oxford and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), received regulatory clearance for use in Ghana and Nigeria earlier this month. Data from a Phase IIb trial demonstrated that this was the first vaccine to meet the WHO’s Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap goal of a vaccine with at least 75% efficacy.
Haque concludes: “With the approval of the first malaria vaccines and much promising development seen in the malaria vaccine pipeline, this is an exciting time within the field. However, the ‘Zero Malaria’ goal still faces many challenges. For example, P. vivax isthe second major cause of malaria, so the approval of a vaccine targeting this pathogen would be another breakthrough. However, there are several obstacles associated with the development of a P. vivax vaccine including the pathogen’s particularly complex life cycle and its high genetic diversity. Consequently, few candidates have reached clinical development.”