Strides are being made in the development of malaria vaccines, with three drugs currently being evaluated on the African continent.
Following the recommendation of the first-ever malaria vaccine by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the development of others is seen as a further breakthrough in efforts to prevent deaths from the parasitic infection.
Currently, more than 500 000 people die every year from malaria, half of them children under the age of five years.
“The RTS,S is the first licenced malaria vaccine, and is a programme that we contributed to in various ways,” said the executive director of the European developing countries clinical trials partnership (EDCTP), Dr Micheal Makanga. “We also have another candidate, R21/Matrix-M, which has shown very promising phase 2B results,” he added on 17 November 2021.
“I am highlighting this to let you know that we have the first licenced vaccine, but there are other candidates that are in research and development that we can invest in, and all these are being evaluated in Africa,” he told a virtual gathering where researchers discussed the outlook on malaria research and treatment programmes in sub-Saharan Africa.
The clinical trials partnership is supporting 65 projects on malaria, with an investment of about €164-million, of which €46-million has been dedicated towards malaria vaccine development. Out of these projects, 17 consist of large clinical trial activities with 26 countries that are currently involved in the malaria research initiatives.
Although South Africa does not have a serious malaria problem, it is still heavily involved in research around the disease.
“South Africa is playing a very key role in research and development. It is collaborating with 20 sub-Saharan countries in different levels of clinical trials, implementation as well as skills development,” Makanga said.
“And now with the establishment of regional hubs for vaccines … there is more room for collaboration with African countries and global partners.”
The RTS,S vaccine was developed over a period of 30 years and piloted in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. Since 2009, more than 2.3-million doses of the vaccine, which has been found to be effective against the deadly malaria parasite P. falciparum, have been administered to children in these three countries. It can currently be given to children aged five months and above.
Researchers have called for more investment towards research and development for more vaccines and treatment programmes that will include clinical trials on other vulnerable populations such as pregnant women.