Perspective on a better malaria vaccine

03 May 2021 | Back to News, Publications and Annual Reports



We recently indicated that there is a malaria vaccine that is effective in only about half of the people. This does not comply with the WHO guideline, which tells us that a malaria vaccine is only successful at 75% effectiveness. We did not know then, that there was a possible breakthrough to report. Scientists have now announced that in a group of 450 children in Burkina Faso they found 77 percent protection in children who had received a high dose.

The search for a vaccine against malaria has been going on for decades. The malaria parasite is a kind of chameleon that constantly changes appearances. Not only because of mutations, but also because the life cycle of the parasite is so complicated. Partly because of this, it appears to be very difficult to develop a vaccine against malaria, resulting in more than 400,000 people die from this disease every year.

Circum sporozoite protein (CSP)

The first malaria protein for which the DNA sequence became known is called CSP (circum sporozoite protein). We have known for a long time that this protein plays an important role after a bite from an infected malaria mosquito. The parasite uses it to settle in the new host (humans). And yet it remains a mysterious protein, because there are also indications that the CSP protein helps the parasite to evade our immune system.

CSP as a vaccine

Either way, the first malaria vaccine to hit the market uses the CSP protein. In combination with an adjuvant it offers some protection, but it is still not good enough.

The new vaccine

The report that 77 percent of children in Burkina Faso are protected by a new vaccine is an important breakthrough. This new vaccine also makes use of the CSP protein, which is made in a different way. As a result, more CSP protein is presented to the immune system and also another adjuvant is used. This not only makes the vaccine seem to work better, but it is also cheaper.

An important step forward

All in all, an important step forward. Still, we have to be careful not to rejoice too quickly. The research has yet to be assessed by experts. The vaccine has also only been tested in a small group of children in an area where malaria does not occur all year round. Remaining questions are: how long will this vaccine provide protection? Does the vaccine provide protection in malaria areas where malaria is less or more common and where other malaria variants of CSP are? A combination with other proteins, such as the AMA-1 protein, is probably important to make future vaccines even better. In any case, there is more and more reason to hope for an effective malaria vaccine.