Oxford vaccine raises hope for second malaria shot

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A malaria shot developed by researchers at the University of Oxford has shown that its strong protection can hold up a year after a booster, bolstering the case for a second vaccine to be used to protect children and infants in Africa from the deadly disease.

The vaccine, known as R21, was shown to have an efficacy as high as 80% one year after a fourth dose was administered to some 400 infants aged 5 to 17 months in an African region with seasonal circulation of the disease, according to a study published Wednesday by the peer-reviewed medical journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The shot, which uses an ingredient called adjuvant to boost immune response, had previously been found to to be 77% effective against malaria after three primary doses, given at a four-week interval.

That made it the first malaria vaccine to attain the no-less-than 75% efficacy level set out by the World Health Organization against malaria. The WHO also aims to approve vaccines that can maintain protection at this level for no less than two years by the end of the decade.

The researchers hope to have the vaccine approved in 2023 and are now testing it in a late-stage clinical trial involving 4,800 people in multiple countries across east and west Africa.

They are also looking to see if an additional booster may be needed to maintain protection. The shot is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker. The institute also manufactured the Covid-19 shot co-developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc.

The news on the malaria shot comes just after the WHO earlier this week formally endorsed the world’s first vaccine for the disease, developed by GSK and its partners.

The so-called WHO prequalification is a validation of the safety and efficacy of GSK’s Mosquirix shot and will enable purchase from countries and international organizations to battle malaria’s spread.

The GSK shot, given in four doses, was found only to have nearly 40% efficacy against malaria among the same age group after a four-year follow-up. This was in advanced multi-country, multi-setting studies in tens of thousands of children. GSK’s malaria vaccine showed efficacy levels as high as 70% in an independent study similar to the Oxford vaccine trial.

The injection, along with other measures, could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Malaria has been a tricky target for vaccine makers, but researchers are making progress. The parasites that cause the deadly disease are prone to mutations that allow them to develop resistance to some existing treatments. BioNTech SE, which developed the highly potent mRNA Covid vaccine in partnership with Pfizer Inc, is also working on a vaccine candidate for malaria.

© 2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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