European Commission funds malaria vaccine research

Malaria, a mosquito-borne illness affecting an estimated 216 million people worldwide, proves unpleasant and sometimes fatal to the average individual. Pregnant women, however, are especially vulnerable to the disease because of a pathology caused by clumping of red blood cells infected with the malaria parasite in the placenta.

The European Commission committed about €6 million ($8.09 million) to the PlacMalVac project to help develop a vaccine candidate against pregnancy-associated malaria. Five partners, including the European Vaccine Initiative, are working to find an antidote to the type of malaria that specifically affects pregnant women. The group so far has raised €16 million ($21.58 million) to fund its cause.

When the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum infects red blood cells in the placenta, it can cause growth retardation and preterm delivery; both can lead to higher infant mortality rates. PlacMalVac has homed in on a protein called var2CSA expressed by the infected red blood cells as a leading candidate for the vaccine.

More than 100 million pregnant women are at risk for pregnancy-associated malaria, and the disease kills an estimated 10,000 women and up to 200,000 infants annually.

"Together with another grant recently awarded to EVI by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF) to support two other projects related to PAM--PRIMALVAC and PAMCPH--EVI has been instrumental in the mobilization of €16 million for the development of vaccines against this type of malaria, which specifically affects a particularly vulnerable demographic group: Pregnant women," said Odile Leroy, executive director of the European Vaccine Initiative.

The three projects PlacMalVac is working on receive major co-funding from Irish Aid, the Institut national de la sante et de la recherche medicale (Inserm) and the Institut National de la Transfusion Sanguine (INTS). Additional contributions come from the Universities of Copenhagen and Benin, the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (IRD) and by ExpreS2ion Biotechnologies.

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