After COVID jab, BioNTech sets sights on malaria vaccine

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The prevalence of the malaria parasite in children under five has plunged to 0.2 percent from 4 percent in 2011, according to the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP). Image courtesy: NetDoctor

Germany’s BioNTech, which developed a coronavirus vaccine with US giant Pfizer in record time, said Monday it aimed to start trialling a malaria vaccine next year using the same breakthrough mRNA technology.

If successful, the vaccine could be a crucial step in the fight against the mosquito-borne disease, which kills more than 400,000 people a year — mainly young children in Africa.

“We will do whatever it takes to develop a safe and effective mRNA-based malaria vaccine that will prevent the disease, reduce mortality and ensure a sustainable solution for the African continent and other regions affected by this disease,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

The company said it will assess several vaccine candidates and begin clinical trials by the end of 2022.

The project is backed by the World Health Organization, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Union.

BioNTech said it was also looking at setting up an mRNA hub in Africa so that future vaccines can be manufactured and distributed on the continent.

The planned malaria vaccine would use the same messenger RNA method that made its debut with the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which was the first jab against COVID to be approved in the West in late 2020.

The coronavirus jab developed by US rival Moderna also uses mRNA technology.

Scientists believe mRNA vaccines, which provoke an immune response by delivering genetic molecules containing the code for key parts of a pathogen into human cells, could be a game-changer against many diseases.

They also take less time to develop than traditional vaccines.

BioNTech’s COVID-19 shot was developed and approved by regulators in less than a year.

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