According to results from a large study published on Thursday, a Malaria vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India prevented approximately three-quarters of symptomatic Malaria cases in young children in their first year post-vaccination.
The vaccine, already approved for use by regulatory authorities in three West African countries and the World Health Organization, is the second to become available this year. The first vaccine, developed by GSK, was launched in Cameroon earlier this month.
Both vaccines have the potential to make significant strides in combating the ancient mosquito-borne disease, which still claims the lives of over half a million people, primarily young children, in sub-Saharan Africa every year.
„This is something we’ve been waiting for for decades,“ said Mary Hamel, head of Malaria Vaccine Implementation at the WHO, in an interview. She emphasized the importance of having two safe and effective Malaria vaccines to meet the demand.
The final phase study results for the Oxford and Serum shot, known as R21, were published in The Lancet on Thursday. In a trial involving 4,800 children in four African countries, the vaccine prevented 75% of Malaria cases in children aged between 5 and 36 months in areas where the first three doses were administered before the peak Malaria season. It prevented 68% of cases in areas with year-round transmission.
Researchers noted that the vaccine’s efficacy was maintained with a booster shot one year later, although the protection appeared to diminish over time. Further research is ongoing.
„This is something else we can add,“ said Brian Greenwood, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who has been working on the vaccines for decades. „Now we need to learn how to best utilize these vaccines,“ he added, mentioning the potential need for regular booster shots as well as combining the vaccines with preventative medications and tools like mosquito nets.
Despite indications that R21 uniquely provides protection, direct comparison of the two vaccines is challenging due to various variables in the studies, including the age of vaccinated children, the duration of study, the coverage of concurrently administered preventative medications, and the extent of Malaria transmission in an area, among others. However, experts noted that their performance is similar, a conclusion confirmed by the WHO.
The main difference is that the new R21 shot is approximately $3 cheaper per dose and more readily available. While GSK’s vaccine will only have 18 million doses available by 2026, Serum has already produced 25 million doses of R21 for this year, with Chairman Adar Poonawalla mentioning in advance of the results that there is no capacity issue and that additional updates will be provided in three to four months if more countries express demand. The shot also contains an adjuvant, an immune-enhancing component from Novavax.
Alassane Dicko, who led the R21 study in Mali, emphasized the need to deploy the vaccines for children as soon as possible.
(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby, additional reporting by Rishika Sadam in Hyderabad, India; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)