Mosquitoes are one of the deadliest animals on the planet because they spread yellow fever, dengue, encephalitis and malaria, which killed 400,000 people in 2019.
Now, clinical trials of the promising R21 vaccine in Burkina Faso may be an effective tool against the disease, as it activates the body’s immune system to attack the parasite, and it has been 77% effective in phase 2 trials.
Malaria, which ravages and replicates in the body in seven different stages, comes from the parasite. Plasmodium falciparum, that it is not a particularly good candidate for vaccination (mosquito nets are still the most effective measure), due to constant evolution throughout its life cycle. In perspective, it is made of 5,000 genes, while the coronavirus that has impacted our entire lives contains only 16.
In the 1980s, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline tried to use vaccination to deal with the malaria epidemic by focusing on the early stage of the disease. Plasmodium life cycle, called a sporozoite. In 1983, according to National Geographic, the researchers discovered that sporozoites are covered in proteins that elicit a strong immune system response, but evolution to their next life cycle occurs too quickly for natural immunity to recognize and eliminate sporozoites.
The idea was to make a carrier that featured a kind of punching bag of sporozoite protein, so that when the real one arrived, the immune system would react fast enough to eradicate it before it spread to the liver.
Marketed as MosquirixIt is the most proven candidate vaccine for malaria, but after twelve months, its effectiveness is reduced unless you sleep under mosquito nets.
Halidou Tinto, an epidemiologist and malaria expert, works near Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and helped organize a trial of 450 children between the ages of 5 and 17 for the new R21 vaccine, which uses the same method as Mosquirix. But just made better, where previously only one in five proteins was coated with the sporozoite protein, R21 produced five out of five.
In his prime, R21 reduction in the clinical incidence of malaria by 77%, 2% more than the 75% target set by WHO in 2013 as part of an international attempt to push the global malaria problem further into conventional pharmacology. There were no differences in the incidence of malaria at 6 or 12 months of follow-up; a significant improvement over the old GSK vaccine.
The authors of this article pointed out that the doses of the vaccine were given before the annual rainy season, when malaria cases increase, but that it would be worth comparing the results of trials conducted at different times of the year.
“We are excited, but we still need phase three trials to confirm the efficacy and safety of the vaccine before continuing,” Tinto told National Geographic.
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