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  • Makers buoyed by malaria vaccine data

    Author: AAP

Encouraging new data on a malaria vaccine from Oxford University bodes well for global effort to combat the mosquito-borne disease that kills a child every minute, its makers say.

After decades of work, the only approved malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, made by British drug maker GSK, was recently endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

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Oxford's vaccine, called R21/Matrix-M, was likely more effective than Mosquirix in preventing the disease that kills about 600,000 a year despite the billions spent annually on insecticides, bed nets and anti-malarial drugs, Oxford scientist Adrian Hill said.

""I think this is really exciting - people have been trying to make malaria vaccines for over a century," Hill said.

It also had a manufacturing advantage, he said, citing a deal with Serum Institute of India to produce 200 million doses annually, starting 2023.

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In contrast, GSK has committed to produce up to 15 million doses of Mosquirix every year through 2028, well under than the roughly 100 million doses a year of the four-dose vaccine the WHO says is needed long term to cover about 25 million children.

GSK has said it cannot make enough Mosquirix to meet the vast demand without more funds from international donors.

On Wednesday, data from a mid-stage study on more than 400 young children who received a fourth dose of the Oxford shot after the primary three-dose regimen was published in the Lancet journal.

Vaccine effectiveness was 80 per cent in the group that received a higher dose of the immune-boosting adjuvant component of the vaccine, and 70 per cent in the lower-dose adjuvant group, at 12 months following the fourth dose.

The doses were administered before the peak malaria season in Burkina Faso.

The complicated structure and life cycle of the malaria parasite has long stymied efforts to develop vaccines. GSK's Mosquirix was conceived in the 1980s and paved the way for the Oxford team to create a more potent vaccine, Hill said.

However, it is difficult to make direct comparisons between the two shots, given data from an ongoing larger phase III trial testing the Oxford shot involving 4800 participants is still to come.

Meanwhile, late-stage trial data published last year showed that if Mosquirix was administered ahead of peak malaria season in high-transmission areas, it was nearly 63 per cent effective against clinical malaria.

Comparisons between the two vaccines at this stage must be tentative, given they had not yet been compared head-to-head in the same trial, said David Conway from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

However, the phase II data suggested the Oxford shot was a step forward from Mosquirix, improving efficacy and the retention of immunity, said Alister Craig from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Oxford expects to submit phase III data to the WHO imminently, hoping for a key endorsement next year.

Reuters with PA

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