In a press release issued today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $168.7 million award to PATH for the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) to develop a new generation of malaria vaccines.
"I am tremendously grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this generous award," said Dr. Christian Loucq, Director of MVI. "These new funds are recognition that we have a solid strategy in place to accelerate further malaria vaccine development—and the team to deliver on it. This commitment should serve as a beacon, alerting current and potential partners that the time is ripe to work with us to defeat malaria."
Every year, malaria kills close to one million people, most of them African children. MVI's partnership with GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals on the company's RTS,S vaccine has already provided the first rigorous scientific evidence that a vaccine is not only possible but probable.
If the upcoming Phase 3 trial of RTS,S confirms results to date, this vaccine candidate would fulfill the malaria vaccine community's goal of achieving a first-generation vaccine. As a partially effective malaria vaccine, RTS,S would have the potential to protect hundreds of thousands of lives every year.
"Our strategy for developing a malaria vaccine follows the PATH approach to neglected diseases, which has shown that investment in core areas of research and development, particularly vaccine technology, does yield important advances," said Dr. Christopher J. Elias, president and CEO of PATH.
With the new investment, MVI hopes to make important progress in four critical areas:
- Ways to deliver vaccines within the body, such as with weakened or killed viruses.
- Technologies to boost the potency of vaccines.
- Methods for evaluating vaccine concepts prior to testing in humans.
- Prioritization of malaria antigens—the basic building blocks of most malaria vaccine candidates.
In the past few months, MVI has entered into a range of collaborative agreements that have laid a strong foundation for the pursuit of next-generation malaria vaccines. For example, our collaboration with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) is part of our commitment to invest in efforts to isolate and evaluate particular proteins or antigens from the malaria parasite that could be used in a vaccine. MVI is also working with the Infectious Disease Research Institute (IDRI) as part of our determination to provide scientists with new adjuvants for malaria vaccines—the vaccine components that can be crucial to their ability to elicit a strong immune response. Our collaboration with the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) is currently focused on the establishment of a Human Challenge Center devoted exclusively to testing the safety and efficacy of malaria vaccines.