Currently there is no effective vaccine to protect against malaria even though the disease kills 600,000 people annually and 3.4 billion people worldwide are at risk of contracting the debilitating and potentially fatal disease. 90 percent of all malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa according to the World Health Organization.
The Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap set a strategic goal in 2006 to develop and license a vaccine by 2025, more than ten years away. While there has been some successful headway into this effort, all researchers and pharmaceutical companies that work in this field admit that a malaria vaccine is years, probably decades away.
Every year seemingly, researchers report a breakthrough in developing a malaria vaccine. Substantial chatter was made in 2013 among global health experts and the national news that the first vaccine that protected 100% of its test field against the mosquito-bourne disease was discovered. The researchers did, however, use a weakened form of malaria that was radiated and then frozen. While substantial progress was made, it is without doubt that a vaccine is light years away in research and pharmaceutical estimations.
An Australian researcher from the University of Adelaid, Associate Professor Milton McAllister, argued in his latest paper that harnessing the knowledge from animal-based protozoal vaccines will create notable progress in the development of a human malaria vaccine.
“There is one vaccine in development for malaria – but that requires three inoculations and only about half the people vaccinated are protected, and that protection only lasts for about six months”, said McAllister. “Vaccines for similar diseases in cattle and sheep, on the other hand, require only one inoculation and provide solid immunity that endures for more than a year and often covers the life of the animal.”
Cambridge University recently chose Professor McAllister’s research as their “paper of the week”.
“For human malaria, great emphasis has been placed on creating new types of futuristic vaccines using small pieces of DNA and protein from the disease-causing parasite,” says Associate Professor McAllister. “There is a great desire to make malaria vaccines very safe – as they should be – but that approach has just not been effective.”
It may be a stretch to use veterinary science to create a human malaria vaccine, but thinking outside of the box may eventually prove useful. Only time will tell.
Read Professor McAllister’s research at Successful vaccines for naturally occurring protozoaldiseases of animals should guide human vaccine research: A review of protozoal vaccines and their design.
UN Photo/Catianne Tijerina