So far, only a vaccine with limited efficacy has been available against malaria. Now the Mainz-based company wants to produce the world’s first mRNA vaccine against the disease. Billions are at stake.
Mainz-based pharmaceutical manufacturer Biontech is launching the development of a vaccine against malaria: with the aim of producing the world’s first vaccine against the disease based on mRNA technology. This is what Biontech founders Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci plan to announce this Monday afternoon at an event organized by the non-profit kENUP Foundation, according to SPIEGEL information.
According to the report, Biontech plans to start clinical trials of its new malaria vaccine as early as next year. The drug could then possibly be administered en masse in 2023 or 2024. To date, there is only one approved vaccine in the world with limited efficacy against plasmodia, the pathogens that cause malaria.
With a highly effective malaria vaccine, Biontech could become the world’s dominant supplier of drugs based on messenger RNA technology. The German company created the first and most widely administered mRNA vaccine against the novel coronavirus. And it plans to use the technology to fight other diseases as well.
Against cancer, Biontech is currently testing 14 clinical product candidates in 15 ongoing trials, plus the company is developing mRNA vaccines against nine different infectious diseases. Clinical trials for an mRNA vaccine against tuberculosis are also scheduled to start in 2022.
According to experts, mRNA technology (short for messenger RNA) could revolutionize the global pharmaceutical industry. According to a forecast by investment bank Berenberg Capital Markets, the market for mRNA drugs is expected to grow to $88 billion by 2030. Biontech CEO Şahin told SPIEGEL at the end of June: “In 15 years, a third of all drugs will be based on mRNA technology.”
In this process, messenger RNA molecules produced in the laboratory are injected into the human body. There, they transmit information to cells to fight certain pathogens.
A small child dies of malaria every two minutes
The malaria vaccine is also said to work on this principle. As with the Corona vaccine, Biontech initially wants to test various vaccine candidates preclinically; clinical trials for the most promising candidate or candidates are then to start at the end of 2022. The vaccine will then be produced, at least in part, in Africa – the continent that suffers by far the most from malaria.
According to estimates by the World Health Organization, around 229 million people are infected with malaria every year, and more than 400,000 die from the disease. Around two-thirds of the fatalities are children under the age of five. This means that, on average, a young child dies of the disease every two minutes. And: more than 90 percent of all cases are registered in Africa.
“Together with our partners, we will do everything we can,” says Biontech CEO Şahin, “to develop a safe and effective mRNA vaccine that will prevent the disease, reduce mortality and provide a sustainable solution for the African continent and other affected regions.” The project is supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the African Union, among others.
To date, only one malaria vaccine has been approved worldwide: Mosquirix (RTS,S). This non-mRNA-based preparation has been administered in pilot projects in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019.
Its efficacy against infection is about 36 percent, well below the WHO’s target of 75 percent. In addition, four injections have to be administered.
A further development of Mosquirix appears more promising: the not-yet-approved, non-mRNA-based vaccine R21/MM from Oxford University. In a Phase II study involving 450 young children in Burkina Faso, this vaccine protected 77 percent of the vaccinated subjects against the tropical disease. The Tübingen-based company Curevac has been researching an mRNA-based malaria vaccine for several years.