In a study that could provide a needed boost for malaria vaccine research, a team in Australia has blocked P. falciparum parasites from infecting human red blood cells by targeting three proteins found to be necessary for infection.
Led by professor Alan Cowman, the group at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute targeted and deleted the proteins Rh5, Ripr and CyRPA and in turn blocked malarial infection. According to the researchers, the proteins form a complex that is “essential in the sequential molecular events leading to parasite invasion.”
Published in Cell Host & Microbe, the new findings “hold great promise for understanding the function of these proteins and their development as vaccines,” Cowman said in a statement.
While in early stages, the work could provide a new direction for vaccine researchers in the field and comes as GlaxoSmithKline seeks to roll out its first-gen malaria vaccine Mosquirix. Seen as far from perfect, GSK’s jab offers 39% efficacy that fades over time. Last week a study found that the vaccine’s effectiveness fades to nearly 0% in children after 7 years, information that could shape future immunization strategies.
But before any such large-scale campaigns, Mosquirix will need to undergo small pilot programs that will test its real-world efficacy. Following its EMA approval last July, the WHO ordered local studies that will further test the shot. Last month, Gavi stepped up to offer $27.5 million in funding for the programs if its contribution is matched.
New malaria research is needed, the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute team said, because parasites have adapted to existing treatments, creating a desperate need for next-gen approaches. Two hundred million people worldwide contract malaria each year, while the disease leaves up to 450,000 dead annually, mostly children under 5.
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