New Research Partners Hope to Create Malaria Vaccine

Oct 25, 2001

The Associated Press

The director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative announced Monday a two-year, $1.5 million partnership with the University of Oxford and the biotechnology company Oxxon Pharmaccines for research and testing of a malaria vaccine.

'Is a malaria vaccine possible? Yes,' said Dr Regina Rabinovich. 'Malaria has become an unseen epidemic, but with the help of funding and partnerships, it is possible to see a vaccine in eight to 15 years.'

Rabinovich, the director for the US-based initiative, said there was renewed excitement about developing a vaccine for poor countries, such as Kenya, where three children die per minute from the disease.

Rabinovich announced the partnership at the 129th American Public Health Association meeting in Atlanta, in the US state of Georgia.

The alliance between the three entities will allow the development and testing in human volunteers of a vaccine based on Oxxon's 'prime-boost' technology, Rabinovich said.

The prime-boost plan increases the body's natural resistance to malaria through a two-stage regime that primes the immune system with one vaccine candidate and then boosts the immune response with another.

'These vaccines, administered in the prime-boost approach, have the potential to greatly amplify the human body's ability to fight off malaria,' Rabinovich said. 'The partnership will benefit tremendously from Oxford's substantial scientific expertise and Oxxon's ability to develop clinical grade vaccines.'

For Cambodia, and the rest of the world, the vaccines could be a long way off.

While most vaccines are developed to fight viruses, malaria is a parasitic infection, and parasites have never been counteracted by a vaccine, said Dr Stefan Hoyer, a malaria expert in Cambodia at the World Health Organization.

It would be the first vaccine developed against a parasite,' Hoyer said.

Parasites are difficult to fight with a vaccine because they are genetically structured to go undetected by the body's immune system, Hoyer said.

'A parasite has immunological stealth technology,' he said.

There would also be difficulties with distribution were a vaccine ever to be developed, Hoyer said, because worldwide there is a higher priority to eradicate at least four other diseases, including measles and Japanese encephalitis, Hoyer said.

Mosquito nets continue to be an effective preventative measure, keeping at bay malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which only bite at night.

Cambodia is a pioneer in other weapons against malaria, developing multiple drug therapies and testing large populations for responses to new drugs.

The National Malaria Center is currently working on a new formula to give to small children. (Additional reporting by Brian Calvert and Agence France-Presse).