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  • Technology roadmap resets targets on malaria vaccines

Chris Nurse, Wellcome Images

Speed read

  • An update of WHO’s 2006 roadmap sets more ambitious vaccine targets

  • Better vaccines expected by 2030 could help eliminate malaria

  • But progress should not come at the expense of funding other control methods

More efficacious malaria vaccines and those that could eliminate the disease in different settings should be available by 2030, according to the 2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap, announced today in The Lancet.

The roadmap has been endorsed by the WHO and is expected to act as a blueprint for development of malaria vaccines, and it will be launched today at the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene’s annual conference in Washington DC.

It sets out updated goals for vaccine development that built on its 2006 version, as a result of consultations led by the WHO, and supported by organisations including PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust and USAID.

“The world has changed quite a bit since the first roadmap,” Ashley Birkett, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, tells SciDev.Net. “We’d been very much focused on vaccines to prevent disease and death. But the call for elimination and eventual eradication made [since] really changed the focus because that will require vaccines that prevent transmission of the parasite. So we felt as a community it was important to go back and update the roadmap to align it with new strategic objectives.”

The 2006 roadmap set a goal for having a licensed first-generation vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum malaria for children in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. Birkett says the goal remains achievable, with results from ongoing clinical trials of the RTS,S vaccine candidate, showing that almost one clinical case of malaria was averted for every child vaccinated over the first 18 months.

In addition to maintaining this as a target, the updated roadmap sets out two new and more ambitious strategic goals to be met by 2030. The first is to develop vaccines of a higher efficacy against malaria, and the second is to develop vaccines that reduce transmission of the parasite to enable malaria elimination.

“The world has changed quite a bit since the first roadmap...We felt as a community it was important to go back and update the roadmap to align it with new strategic objectives.”

Ashley Birkett, PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative 

Potential candidates for eliminating malaria include transmission-blocking vaccines (TBVs) which work by encouraging the production of antibodies that prevent mosquitoes from being infected by parasites when feeding on infected humans, thereby preventing onward transmission.

“TBVs could make an important contribution to malaria elimination and eradication,” says Birkett. “Researchers have been working on this approach for many years, but it really hasn’t had the development dollars or expertise to translate research findings to a rigorous product development initiative. So over the last few years, we’ve been working with research groups who’ve identified promising target antigens to translate them into vaccine approaches with clearly defined clinical and regulatory strategies.”

The roadmap also highlights a need to develop vaccines that target all malaria-endemic areas, all age groups, and Plasmodium vivax — the most common human malaria-causing species.

To meet the goals, the document sets out a number of priority areas to be addressed, including ensuring results of funded clinical trials are publicly-available within 12 months, and establishing a systematic approach for prioritising vaccine candidates.

Sylvia Meek, technical director of the Malaria Consortium praises the roadmap’s systematic and forward thinking.

“The addition of a more ambitious goal to develop a vaccine that reduces transmission makes sense, given global strategies to move to elimination, but it will also extend the demand for research funding,” she tells SciDev.Net. “It will therefore be important to ensure this is not at the expense of funding more complete use of existing effective tools, such as antimalarial drugs, diagnostics and mosquito nets, which rarely reach everybody in need.”

Link to 2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap