Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites and transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. Every year around a half million people die from malaria, many of whom are children under 5 years of age, and annually about 200 million people suffer from the disease worldwide.
After several years of development, a malaria vaccine (RS,S) was approved, however results have showed only about 50% efficacy. Therefore, there remains a pressing need for an effective malaria vaccine, and back in 2015, the WHO set an ambitious goal of 75% efficacy.
Recently, in a collaboration between the University of Oxford and Novavax, an adjuvanted R21 vaccine demonstrated an efficacy of 77% in a Phase 2 clinical trial – making it the first vaccine to meet the WHO goal and showing that the possibility of controlling malaria may finally be within reach.
Interestingly, the R21 clinical trial used the same adjuvant as Novavax’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was recently approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). An adjuvant is a potent component of a vaccine that stimulates the immune system and augments immune responses. Furthermore, Novavax’s adjuvant, called Matrix-M, was originally developed in Uppsala, Sweden and the company has several other Matrix-M adjuvanted vaccines in the pipeline including influenza, RSV, and Ebola.
Indeed, the road to a malaria vaccine has been a long uphill battle but the recent developments in new technologies offer the real possibility of saving millions of lives in the years to come.