Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
World's first carbohydrate malaria vaccine wins Gates Foundation grant
A Walter and Eliza Hall Institute project to develop the world’s first carbohydrate-based malaria vaccine has received a US$1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, through the Grand Challenges Explorations program.
The vaccine, developed by Professor Louis Schofield from the institute’s Infection and Immunity division, targets an essential Plasmodium parasite carbohydrate called GPI (glycosylphosphatidylinositol). GPI is also a toxin produced by the Plasmodium parasite that has previously been identified as a major determinant in the severity and fatality of disease.
Associate Professor Schofield said the US$1 million Grand Challenges Explorations Phase II funding will allow the team to advance development and preclinical trials that will test the ability of the vaccine to interrupt transmission of the parasite, and decrease the severity of the disease.
“The anti-GPI vaccine is novel in that it is the first potential antimalarial vaccine that targets a parasite carbohydrate, rather than a protein,” he said. “Malaria parasites invest considerable effort in evading the immune system, continuously modifying its proteins to avoid detection, which is why a malaria vaccine has continued to be elusive. A vaccine that targets a highly conserved carbohydrate target could be especially effective in treating malaria.”
Associate Professor Schofield said that a vaccine with anti-toxic properties could also be a highly effective public health tool. “Vaccines against pathogen-derived toxins have been successful against tetanus, diptheria and pertussis [whooping cough], but have not been developed for treating malaria,” Associate Professor Schofield said. “The use of a vaccine with anti-toxin properties could help to diminish the disease burden in countries where malaria is endemic, particularly if used in combination with other prevention and treatment strategies.”
Associate Professor Schofield said the US$1 million Phase II funding follows on from a one-year Phase I funding project also supported by the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges Explorations program.
“We generated some very encouraging results from the phase I project that indicate the anti-GPI vaccine could be very useful in both preventing and treating malaria,” he said.
World Health Organization figures indicate more than half the world is at risk of malaria infection, with 225 million cases of malaria and almost 800,000 deaths annually. The disease is the biggest killer in sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 20 per cent of all childhood deaths are due to malaria, the equivalent of one child every 45 seconds.
“We have done extensive work in areas where malaria is endemic, such as Papua New Guinea, where malaria is a substantial disease and economic burden,” Associate Professor Schofield said. “We are excited to move into further development and trials of a vaccine that may help to diminish this burden.”
The project is one of only nine Grand Challenges Explorations projects that received up to $1 million in funding to advance ideas that have shown promise in tackling global health challenges. Grand Challenges Explorations enables researchers worldwide to test unorthodox ideas that address persistent health and development challenges.