First tests in humans of a BPRC developed anti-malaria vaccine candidate
4 February 2014
To date, there is no vaccine available against malaria. Therefore, research efforts are directed towards finding a weak spot of the parasite that could be developed into a new vaccine candidate. BPRC researchers were closely involved in the identification, characterization and production of AMA-1, a protein that is essential for the parasite. Years of research have now resulted in the first tests of an optimized version of the molecule in humans.
One of the most promising malaria vaccine candidate molecules is a protein called AMA-1. This molecule is essential for the parasite, as it cannot survive without this protein. Research at BPRC has shown that vaccination of rhesus monkeys with AMA-1 leads to protection against malaria. Antibodies are being produced that prevent the invasion of the parasite into the red blood cell. The parasite cannot survive outside the red blood cell, and thus malaria is prevented.
BPRC researchers have characterized this protein and developed a method to produce AMA-1 in large amounts (required for vaccination). Many AMA-1 variants occur in the malaria parasite population in the field, therefore we had to design a special version of AMA-1 to be effective as a vaccine. Research in rhesus monkeys demonstrated that vaccination with these so-called DiCo’s is safe and that antibodies are produced that recognize different AMA-1 variants and kill parasites that have different AMA-1 variants. Under supervision of the European Vaccine Initiative (EVI; www.euvaccine.eu), this new vaccine candidate is currently being tested in humans. The first step is to test the safety of the vaccine formulation in a group of healthy European volunteers. If the vaccine is considered to be safe, further small scale testing will take place in Africa in healthy volunteers that have been exposed to malaria before. These initial tests will require approximately one and a half years.