An epochal turning point in the fight against malaria, one of the oldest and most dangerous infectious diseases, which kills half a million people globally every year, half of them children under 5, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa. The University of Oxford has developed the first malaria vaccine that exceeds the 75% efficacy threshold set by the World Health Organization (WHO). The new vaccine (R-21/Matrix-M) was developed by a group of researchers from the Jenner Institute of the University of Oxford, has been approved by the Ghanaian regulatory authorities (Fda Ghana) and “is the second vaccine against malaria approved worldwide, but the first to have exceeded the 75% efficacy threshold set by the WHO (77% efficacy at 12-month follow-up),” highlights a note from the University of Oxford. The vaccine has been approved for use in children aged 5 months to 36 months, the group at the highest risk of dying from malaria.
“This achievement marks the culmination of 30 years of malaria vaccine research at our university, with the design and delivery of a highly effective vaccine that can be given on an appropriate scale to the countries that need it most.As with the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, our partnership with the Serum Institute of India has been key to the success of large-scale production and rapid development”.
The new anti-malaria vaccine “is low-dose and can be produced on a large scale and at a modest cost which will allow African countries to be supplied with up to hundreds of millions of doses”, remarked the University of Oxford. The clinical trials “were conducted in the UK, Thailand, and several African countries, including a phase III involving Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, and Tanzania, which enrolled 4,800 children. The results of this phase will be published at the end of the year”. In a Phase IIb study last year, researchers demonstrated that a booster dose of R21/Matrix-M one year after a three-dose primary regimen maintained “high efficacy against malaria and continued to meet indications.” efficacy criteria, indicating at least 75% efficacy,” the statement reads.
“The vaccine – explains the University of Oxford – contains ‘Matrix-M’, an adjuvant produced by Novavax, a saponin-based substance that enhances the immune response, making it more lasting. Previous studies have highlighted the role of the Novavax adjuvant in ‘increase the efficacy of the vaccine: in fact, greater efficacy was found (77%) in trial participants who received a higher dose of adjuvant, compared to the group who received a lower dose of adjuvant”.
According to the World Malaria Report 2022, “globally, malaria deaths steadily declined over the period 2000-2019, from 736,000 in 2000 to 409,000 in 2019. The proportion of total malaria deaths among children under the age of 5 years it was 84% in 2000 and 67% in 2019. Furthermore, worldwide the malaria mortality rate (i.e. the number of deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in areas at risk) decreased from about 25 in 2000 to 12 in 2015 and 10 in 2019, with a significant slowdown in the rate of reduction in recent years”.
“About 96% of malaria deaths globally occurred in 29 countries – indicates the report – Four countries are responsible for just over half of all malaria deaths in 2021: Nigeria (31%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (13%), Niger (4%) and the United Republic of Tanzania (4%)”.
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