Ahead of the World Malaria Day (WMD) holding next Thursday, researchers are to begin the first large field trial in West Africa of a malaria vaccine that offers complete protection against the disease.
According to a study published yesterday in the journal Nature, the study on the efficacy of the malaria vaccine under real-world conditions begins early 2020 at Bioko, an island off the coast of Equatorial Guinea, and would involve 2,100 people aged between two and 50 years.
If the vaccine passes the field test, it could be deployed to save the estimated N132 billion Nigeria loses yearly and reduce an estimated 100 million cases with over 300,000 deaths yearly to the ailment and its complications.
The lead researcher and chief executive of Sanaria, Steve Hoffman, said the trial was to provide the efficacy and safety data needed for regulatory approval.
The Rockville, Maryland, United States-based company is behind the epic move with the Guinean government and private energy companies sponsoring the exercise.
The report noted: “In laboratory studies, the vaccine called PfSPZ has proven to be the most effective malaria vaccine developed so far, giving healthy volunteers complete protection.
“PfSPZ works by eliciting an immune response against the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. It is made of sporozoites (SPZ), the stage in the malaria parasite’s lifecycle that infected mosquitoes inject into people during a bite. Sanaria isolates and purifies billions of sporozoites from farmed mosquitoes.
“The vaccine is unique in using whole parasites as its ingredient. Most malaria vaccines include only a small number of genetically engineered parasite proteins. The abundance of proteins in the whole parasite vaccine explains why it provokes such a strong immune response.”
For the vaccine to be effective, the document added that it must be injected intravenously. That poses challenges for mass vaccination campaigns because it is a more complex procedure than those typically used for other vaccines where jabs penetrate the skin or muscles, or oral vaccines. However, Hoffman thinks the difficulties are surmountable.
The trial on Bioko Island, which has a population of about 280,000 people, is the first large test of the vaccine’s effectiveness in a region where malaria occurs.
An immunologist, who studies malaria at the Seattle Children’s Hospital in Washington, U.S., Stefan Kappe, said PfSPZ’s efficacy would inevitably be lower in laboratory studies due to the fact that infected people were likely to have low immunity.