Biggest vaccine breakthrough yet made in battle with malaria

9 May 2016

A team of researchers has developed an experimental malaria vaccine that can protect adults for up to one year.

Malaria – spread through the bites of mosquitos – has been linked to as many as 2m deaths per year across the globe in the 20th century, and with half the world’s population still at risk of infection, the seriousness of the condition and our inability to create a permanent vaccine makes it a huge concern.

While anti-malarial drugs are currently our biggest defence against the disease, a team from the University of Maryland School of Medicine has published findings in Nature Medicine  claiming it has found an experimental malaria vaccine that can protect adults from infection for more than a year.

Called the PfSPZ vaccine, the treatment was developed and produced by US-based Sanaria with support from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). To develop the drug, it exposed healthy adults to the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum in a controlled setting.

‘These results are really important’

Of the 101 adults who signed up to it, 59 were given the vaccine, while 32 participants were not vaccinated and, following detailed blood tests, the study found that the vaccine provided protection for up to a year in more than half (55pc) of subjects.

Importantly, the PfSPZ vaccine was found to provide sterile protection, meaning the subjects not only didn’t get malaria, but also could not pass on malaria to anyone else.

This marks a considerable improvement on previous testing, which showed that the vaccine worked for three weeks after immunisation.

“These results are really important,” said Kirsten E. Lyke, a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine who worked on the study.

“Malaria has such a devastating effect on children, especially in Africa. This vaccine has the potential to help travellers, military personnel and children in malaria-endemic areas.”

Mosquito image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic