PATH, Inovio zero in on DNA malaria vaccine

DNA fingerprint

Expanding an already solid partnership, PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and Inovio Pharmaceuticals ($INO) will work together to advance malaria vaccine development and new vaccination delivery technologies.

Researchers will see if genetically engineered DNA combined with a vaccine delivery technology dubbed electroporation could induce an immune response that protects against malaria. Electroporation sends out electrical impulses to create temporary pores in a cell membrane. This allows for the uptake of synthetic DNA. Then the cell uses the DNA's instructions to make proteins that mirror the presence of the malaria pathogen. The idea is to induce an immune response that provides protection against malaria.

The agreement builds on a 2010 partnership during which Inovio and MVI developed DNA plasmids targeting multiple malaria parasite antigens.

"We are excited to bring this innovative delivery technology into clinical testing to see whether the compelling immune responses seen in animal models translate to humans," Dr. David C. Kaslow, director of MVI, said. "Determining if and how these potent immune responses lead to protection against infection with the most deadly form of malaria is a high priority in our efforts to develop a next generation malaria vaccine."

So far, no company has successfully developed a DNA vaccine. Merck ($MRK) tried a DNA-based flu vaccine, and others have attempted to use DNA to protect against HIV. The advantage to a DNA vaccine is time saved. Many manufacturers use viruses grown in chicken eggs, a costly and time-consuming process. And finding a DNA vaccine for malaria is key--3.3 billion people live in areas at risk of malaria transmission. The World Health Organization estimates that in 2010, malaria caused 216 million clinical episodes and 655,000 deaths, so vaccine makers could tap into a large market.

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