The company revealed its ambitions to develop a malaria vaccine last year: taking its successful COVID-19 vaccine mRNA tech and applying it to other diseases.
There were an estimated 241 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2020, with an estimated 627,000 deaths, according to the WHO. Children under five are the most vulnerable: accounting for 67% of deaths.
While steps forward have been made in fighting the disease, progress towards 2023 malaria targets for Commonwealth countries and 2030 targets in the WHO global malaria strategy remain off track.
The development of a vaccine against malaria, however, has proved difficult: particularly in terms of reaching the 75% efficacy goal set out by the WHO in its roadmap to tackle malaria.
A key challenge is that the malaria parasite circumvents recognition by the immune system in the early stages of the disease: and so BioNTech’s focus has been on developing a vaccine that teaches the immune system to recognize the parasite as soon as it enters the body.
Speaking during the recent Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases Summit (held in Kigali in parallel to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), BioNTech CEO Ugar Sahin confirmed that the company is on track to put multiple vaccine candidates into first-in-human trials ‘later in 2022’.
GSK vaccine boosts adjuvant production
Meanwhile, GSK has announced it will double production of its AS01 adjuvant for use in its RTS,S malaria vaccine, the first-ever malaria vaccine, which will help meet projected demand for the vaccine in the medium term.
Making the announcement at the summit, it also pledged to put part of a £1bn R&D investment towards next-generation vaccines and medicines for malaria and tuberculosis: including R&D on long-acting injectables to protect against P. falciparum malaria.
After more than 30 years of development, GSK’s RTS,S vaccine was rolled out from 2019 in a pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. Last year, the WHO recommended widespread use of the vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high transmission: marking the first time a malaria vaccine has been backed for widespread use and offering the potential to save tens of thousands of lives a year, according to the organization.
RTS,S is the first and currently the only malaria vaccine that is recommended for use by WHO and received a positive scientific opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
The WHO welcomes further vaccine development, saying: "A second malaria vaccine could be highly beneficial to malaria control, particularly because it could increase supply to meet the anticipated high demand."