Notably, Oxford University completed a phase II clinical trial that showed that a new malaria vaccine is promising. Marketly, it had an efficacy of 77% in 450 children with an age of between 5 and 17 months. It is important to realize that clinicians conducted this clinical trial in Africa (Burkina Faso) over 12 months. With this in mind, the researchers are now starting a much bigger phase III clinical trial involving 4,800 children (age 5-36 months). The clinical trial will span across four African countries.
History of malaria vaccine research
- There were previous attempts to develop a vaccine against malaria. In spring of 1972 I visited Connaught Laboratories in Toronto/Ont. to inquire about job opportunities. I found out that there was a vacant position for me in the malaria vaccine research team. However, I started a position at the Ontario Cancer Institute instead, as I found it more interesting. Subsequently I learnt of a buy-out of Connaught Laboratories by the Canada Development Corporation later in 1972. The corporation decided to cancel the malaria research program. Had I taken the job offer earlier, I would have been without work.
- The Biotech company Sanaria Inc developed a malaria vaccine in 2016. Researchers tested it on 30 men and women; 30 other people were the control group without vaccination. The researchers found out that 55% of people who had received the vaccine had protection against malaria and the immune response lasted for about one year.
Standard set for vaccines by the WHO
The WHO said that a vaccine needs to have an efficacy of 75% or higher to be effective in protecting a population. With the Covid-19 vaccine it allowed a reduced efficacy of 50% although the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines reached into the 90% plus range. The new Oxford University malaria vaccine reached an efficacy of 77% with the higher dose. The researchers noted that with a smaller dose the efficacy of the vaccine was only 71%. The larger phase III clinical trial is now on its way with the higher dose of the malaria vaccine.
The WHO said that in 2019 there were 229 million malaria cases worldwide. 409,000 death occurred from malaria. It was particularly young children who mostly came down with malaria. Children under the age of 5 accounted for 67% of all malaria deaths. 94% of the global malaria burden came from the African continent.
Malaria vaccines are difficult to produce. However, Oxford University managed to come up with a higher efficacy malaria vaccine that protects 77% of vaccinated children from malaria for one year. No vaccine manufacturer up to now was that successful before. In addition, the side effects appear to be minimal. At this point researchers started a phase III clinical trial. When its completion a large vaccination program will likely begin in an attempt to eradicate malaria.