Malaria: New mRNA Vaccine Protects Mice From Disease

A survey published June 18 in the newspaper npj vaccines, from the scientific journal Nature, claims to have developed a new malaria vaccine based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which fully protects against malaria. For the time being the tests had been done only in mice.

The expectation is that the vaccine can replace existing and, until now, limited therapies against the disease. Hope comes after the success of mRNA vaccines against covid-19.

The work is by scientists from the US entities Walter Reed Army Research Institute (WRAIR) and the Naval Medical Research Center, in partnership with researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, in the United States and from Acuitas Therapeutics – a Canadian medical group.

New vaccine was developed with innovative technology that worked for the first time in immunizing against covid-19.Source:  Freepik

Malaria in the world

In 2019, the estimate was 229 million cases of malaria and 409,000 deaths worldwide – which causes a series of problems, such as high costs of medical treatment, high mortality rates and difficulties in social stability. O Plasmodium falciparum it is the species of parasite that causes the vast majority of deaths. The greatest risk of developing the severe form of the disease is for pregnant women, children and travelers who have never had malaria.

A safe and effective vaccine against the disease has been a big target for scientists for a long time. Currently, the most advanced immunizing agent against malaria is RTS, S, a first-generation product developed in partnership with WRAIR. The RTS,S technology is based on the circumsporozoite protein of the P. falciparum, but while the vaccine is an impactful measure in the fight against the disease, field studies have revealed limited efficacy and duration of protection – in addition to the need for three doses per person.

The limitations associated with RTS, S and other first-generation malaria vaccines have led scientists to evaluate new platforms and second-generation approaches to malaria vaccines.

New technologies against malaria

Dr. Evelina Angov, researcher in the Malaria Research section of WRAIR and senior author of the paper, explained in the study the reason behind the development of a new immunizer: “Our goal is to translate these advances into a safe and effective vaccine against malaria” – he said, referring to the recent successes of mRNA vaccines against covid-19 (such as that of the to do).

Pfizer's covid-19 vaccine, which carries the same technology, is about 95% effective.Pfizer’s covid-19 vaccine, which carries the same technology, is about 95% effective.Source:  Freepik

“These vaccines highlight the advantages of mRNA-based platforms – notably highly targeted design, flexible and rapid manufacturing, and the ability to promote strong immune responses in an as-yet-unexplored way,” explained Angov.

Like RTS,S, the messenger RNA vaccine relies on the circumsporozoite P. falciparum protein to induce an immune response. But rather than administering a version of the protein directly, the approach uses mRNA accompanied by a lipid nanoparticle that protects the contents from premature degradation – and helps stimulate the immune system.

The purpose of the malaria mRNA vaccine is to make the recipient’s cells code for the circumsporozoite protein. These proteins, in turn, will trigger a protective response against malaria – without being able, however, to actually cause the infection.

“Our vaccine achieved high levels of protection against malaria infection in mice,” said Katherine Mallory, WRAIR researcher and lead author of the paper. “Although there is still more work ahead of clinical trials, these results are an encouraging sign that an effective mRNA-based malaria vaccine is achievable,” Mallory said.

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