The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded a $1.4 million grant to the
Wistar Institute in Philadelphia to create a synthetic DNA-based vaccine for malaria.
The Wistar Institute will collaborate with the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and Inovio Pharmaceuticals , Inc. (NASDAQ: INO) on the research initiative which was created in the lab of David B. Weiner, Ph.D., executive director, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, The Wistar Institute. Weiner is molecular immunologist and considered a DNA vaccine pioneer.
With $1.4 million from the Gates Foundation, Dr. Weiner and collaborating partners plan to create a new synthetic DNA vaccine encoding antigens of Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest micro-organism that causes malaria.
According to the press release, the synthetic vaccine is designed to trigger the body to produce specific antigens in a person’s body which will activate their immune system for a faster response to the parasite.
In order to do this, they will use an electroporation device created by Inovio Pharmaceuticals that will generate small electric currents into the skin to achieve three things: optimal vaccine uptake, production of the antigen and generate relevant immune responses.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of malaria cases topped 216 million in 2016 (an increase of five million cases over 2015) and 445,000 deaths. In terms of investment, there was about $2.7 billion invested globally in malaria control and elimination efforts by governments of malaria-endemic countries and their international partners. In 2016, the US was the largest international source of malaria financing at $1 billion, followed by the UK, France, Germany and Japan.
In May 2017, Fierce Pharma reported that a study from the University of Melbourne showed that DNA fingerprinting revealed that malaria has the ability to hide in our immune systems by shuffling genes to create different strains which enable the parasite to go undetected. And much like the flue, re-infect the same people.
Also in 2017, GlaxoSmithKline announced they would roll out world’s first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix in 2018. The first generation vaccine, which has completed Phase 3 testing, will be implemented in several pilots administered by the WHO. The vaccine is targeted to Plasmodium falciparum.
“This advanced DNA platform provides new options for creating a next-generation malaria vaccine,” said Wistar’s David B. Weiner, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Director, Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center at The Wistar Institute, and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research. “We expect this partnership—between Wistar, Inovio Pharmaceuticals and Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute—will develop a promising new vaccine candidate for malaria as well as further advance the synthetic DNA platform.”
A mother and her sick child wait at a makeshift pediatric health center as an outbreak of malaria hit their village on June 12, 2017, in Muma. The Malaria outbreak saw 40 cases a day and about two to three deaths per day in the district of Muma. Photo credit: JOHN WESSELS/AFP/Getty Images.