A potential new malaria vaccine has shown a preliminary efficacy rate of 77% during a trial on infants, in what scientists hope is a breakthrough in developing a highly effective malaria inoculation.
Scientists at England’s University of Oxford said that the yearlong trial involved 450 children in the African nation of Burkina Faso and that no serious events were reported during the trial.
It is the first candidate vaccine for malaria to surpass a target set for researchers by the World Health Organization: to develop a shot with at least 75% efficacy.
Researchers say they now plan to conduct a Stage 3 trial for the vaccine on 4,800 children between the ages of 5 months and 3 years in four African countries — Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania. Those trials will be conducted in collaboration with the Serum Institute of India and the U.S. biotechnology company Novavax.
The research is led by Adrian Hill, director of Oxford's Jenner Institute and one of the lead researchers behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Hill told VOA in an exclusive interview that the vaccine is showing game-changing results, noting that over many years,140 malaria vaccine candidates have been tried in clinical trials, and none of them has had an efficacy over 75%.
“In our first attempt with this vaccine, we see 77%, and we think we can improve on that further. So, it’s real progress. It's unprecedented,” he said.
Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, infects millions of people each year and kills more than 400,000 — most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
If the next round of trials, called R21/Matrix-M, is successful, the vaccine could be widely available in as little as two years.
Hill said the Jenner Institute was talking to regulators to see whether the vaccine could be fast-tracked for quicker use.
“We’re making the point that more people died of malaria in Africa last year by a factor of maybe four than died of COVID. So why isn’t malaria a priority?” he said.
The trial for the vaccine involved dividing the 450 child participants into three groups: one receiving a high dose of the vaccine, one receiving a low dose, and one receiving a control vaccine.
Results showed an efficacy of 77% in the high-dose group and of 74% among the low-dose group.
The results of the trial were reported in a preprint article on the website of the British medical journal The Lancet, with researchers saying the results will soon be published in the journal.