Malaria is a major disease and economic burden in developing nations. More than half the world is at risk from malaria, a parasitic disease that infects more than 225 million people per year, resulting in up to one million deaths.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, through its Grand Challenges Explorations program, is supporting malaria researcher Professor Professor Louis Schofield in a project to develop the world’s first carbohydrate-based malaria vaccine.
The vaccine targets an essential Plasmodium parasite carbohydrate called GPI (glycosylphosphatidylinositol). Schofield said GPI was a parasite toxin that had previously been identified as a major determinant in the severity and fatality of malarial 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,” Schofield said. “Malaria parasites invest considerable effort in evading the immune system, continuously modifying their 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.”
The US$1 million funding provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 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.
“We generated some very encouraging results from a phase I project, also supported by the Grand Challenges Explorations program, that indicated the anti-GPI vaccine could be very useful in both preventing and treating malaria,” 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.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has supported the institute for a number of years, particularly in providing funding as part of the Grand Challenges Explorations. These grants are awarded to scientists who have demonstrated the “bold thinking needed to tackle some of the world’s greatest health challenges.”