Malaria Vaccine Initiative, Merck and NYU Langone Medical Center Collaborate to Research Potential Malaria Vaccine

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Development of a vaccine to prevent the malaria parasite from entering the human liver is the goal of a new collaboration announced by global leaders in malaria research and vaccine development. The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), Merck (known outside the US and Canada as MSD), and NYU Langone Medical Center are working together to evaluate an approach targeting a novel part of a major surface protein on the malaria parasite. Malaria is estimated to kill close to 900,000 people each year with the majority of deaths occurring in children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. The circumsporozoite protein (CSP) has been recognized as a potential target in the development of vaccines focused on the earlier stages of malaria infection. The researchers working on this project are focusing on a new approach that targets a region of CSP important to a critical function of the protein. By blocking this function, it is hoped that invasion of the parasite into the liver, an essential step in causing malaria disease, can be prevented.

Dr. Elizabeth Nardin, professor in the Department of Medical Parasitology at NYU Langone Medical Center said, We think we can improve the way sub-unit vaccines are designed by strategically targeting this critical protein function. Other vaccine approaches targeting CSP have required extremely high levels of antibody, which are difficult to elicit and to maintain. This approach has the potential to address that problem.

The rationale for pursuing this targeted “peptide protein conjugate” approach is based on knowledge of both the vaccine technology to be used and the targeting of a particular malaria protein known to elicit an immune response. CSP has already been shown to have significant protective efficacy in the field, in the context of RTS,S, the most advanced malaria vaccine candidate, now in a Phase III clinical trial. Additionally, other conjugate-based vaccines developed against bacterial pathogens have been incorporated into licensed, widely used pediatric vaccines by Merck.

Dr. John Shiver, vice president of vaccines discovery at Merck said, History has shown that vaccines can be a powerful tool against disease. We recognize that new methods and partnerships, like this collaboration with MVI and NYU Langone Medical Center, are important to continue innovation in the battle against the malaria parasite.

lthough this vaccine approach is being tested primarily for use in children younger than one year of age, it could be used to help prevent disease in all populations vulnerable to Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly species of the parasite, and could potentially be adapted to prevent P. vivax as well. Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population liveas at risk of contracting malaria caused by P. vivax and/or P. falciparum.

“Though it is quite early, we are excited to have the opportunity to explore the promise of this innovative vaccine approach with Merck and MVI,” said Dr. Photini Sinnis, associate professor in Medical Parasitology at NYU Langone Medical Center.

About the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI)

The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) is a global program established at PATH in 1999 through an initial grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. MVI’s mission is to accelerate the development of malaria vaccines and ensure their availability and accessibility in the developing world. MVI’s vision is a world free from malaria. For more information, please visit www.malariavaccine.org.

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