The same Oxford team who have produced a successful coronavirus vaccine are also about to enter the final stage of human trials in their quest for inoculation against malaria.
The Jenner Institute director, Prof Adrian Hill, said the malaria vaccine would be tested on 4,800 children in Africa next year after early trials yielded promising results.
In an interview with the Times, Hill said the jab could eventually combat the almost half a million annual deaths from the disease. “Malaria is a public health emergency,” he said.
Each year malaria kills more than 400,000 people, and in Africa, a child under five dies from the disease every two minutes.
“A lot more people will die in Africa this year from malaria than will die from Covid. I don’t mean twice as many – probably 10 times,” he said. “[The vaccine] is going to be available in very large amounts, it works pretty well. And it’s going to be very low priced.”
He added the vaccine could be in use by 2024, should the final human trials be successful. It is regarded as a huge breakthrough as after a century of research, no vaccine is fully licensed for malaria. GSK is the only pharmaceutical company to get close before, producing a product that had 30% efficacy.
The institute’s coronavirus vaccine, as with their malaria one, is intended to be cheap and available at scale in developing countries.
Trials of the jab will start in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Tanzania and Mali next year. Early phase 2 trials look good so far, and Oxford has joined with the Serum Institute in India to produce doses.
It comes as the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine awaits awaiting regulatory approval for use in the UK. Oxford researchers announced their vaccine had 62% efficacy in most volunteers compared with the recently revealed efficacies of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which both topped 90%.
However, they said a sub-set of volunteers had been mistakenly given a lower dose of the vaccine due to problems manufacturing it and that lower dosage produced a higher vaccine efficacy: about 90%. The scientists had no explanation for this anomaly.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the extent to which the world remains at threat from infectious diseases,” Azra Ghani, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, told the Times. “A highly effective vaccine against malaria could have a significant impact in reducing this risk.”