A new vaccine against malaria has proven highly effective in trials, raising new hope that one of the world’s deadliest diseases could be brought under control. According to the World Health Organization, malaria sickens around 230 million people a year and kills around 400,000, the majority of whom are children under the age of five.
“These are very exciting results showing unprecedented efficacy levels from a vaccine that has been well tolerated in our trial programme,” said Halidou Tinto, director of the Institute of Research in Health Sciences and the trial’s lead investigator, said in a statement put out by Oxford University.
The new R21/Matrix-M vaccine, developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, has shown up to 77% effectiveness against the disease in Phase II trials. Scientists at The Jenner Institute also developed the coronavirus vaccine produced and distributed by drug company AstraZeneca.
450 children from Burkina Faso, aged between five months and 17 months, participated in the trials, which took place over a 12 month period. The participants were split into three groups, with one group receiving a high dose of the vaccine, one receiving a low dose, and one group getting a dose of a rabies vaccine as a placebo.
Researchers reported 71% vaccine efficacy in the low dose group and 77% efficacy in the high dose group, making R21/Matrix-M the first malaria vaccine to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of a malaria vaccine that is at least 75% effective against the disease, the statement said.
Researchers, in collaboration with the Serum Institute of India and Maryland-based vaccine maker Novavax, have started recruiting for Phase III trials. They’re looking to recruit 4,800 children between the ages of five months and 36 months across four African countries, according to the statement.
“We look forward to the upcoming Phase III trial to demonstrate large-scale safety and efficacy data for a vaccine that is greatly needed in this region,” Tinto said.
“Malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in Africa … These new data show that licensure of a very useful new malaria vaccine could well happen in the coming years,” said Alkassoum Maiga, a professor and minister of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation in Burkina Faso. “That would be an extremely important new tool for controlling malaria and saving many lives.”