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New consortium seeks to tackle rising global cases of malaria

Vivax malaria is transmitted rapidly from person to person by mosquitoes; a single infection can result in repeated disease episodes.

Aedes aegypti, a common vector of dengue fever and yellow fever. Image by Muhammad Mahdi Karim. — GNU License, V1.2
Aedes aegypti, a common vector of dengue fever and yellow fever. Image by Muhammad Mahdi Karim. — GNU License, V1.2

In 2022, the global tally of malaria cases reached 249 million – well above the estimated number of cases before the COVID-19 pandemic, and an increase of five million over 2021. Malaria remains a serious global problem.

The parasite Plasmodium vivax is the most widespread human malaria-causing pathogen with 2.5 billion people living at risk in Africa, South America, Oceania, and Asia. P. vivax is carried by at least 71 mosquito species. Many vivax vectors thrive in temperate climates—as far north as Finland.

To help to address malaria cases globally, over the next 5 years, OptiViVax, a newly created consortium across academia and industry, is set to build on breakthroughs in malaria research.

These breakthroughs include state-of-the-art advances in parasite immunology, vaccine design, and innovative pre-clinical and clinical studies, to develop next-generation vaccines with increased efficacy against the P. vivax parasite.

Different species of parasite cause malaria. The two approved vaccines against malaria are focussed on P. falciparum and these do not protect individuals against P. vivax.

Vivax malaria is transmitted rapidly from person to person by mosquitoes, and in contrast to P. falciparum, a single infection can result in repeated disease episodes that are initiated by dormant liver stages of the parasite.

Vivax relapse is thought to account for the majority of new infections (80-90 percent). In addition, vivax is more widespread than falciparum and recent studies show a significant burden of disease, particularly affecting young children and pregnant women.

The revised Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap to 2030 facilitated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises the severity of P. vivax malaria, calling for a vaccine intervention to achieve 75 percent efficacy over two years, equally weighted with P. falciparum.

The new OptiViVax project will seek to strengthen P. vivax immunobiology, preclinical functional assays, vaccine development, controlled human malaria infection (CHMI) clinical models and improved bio-manufacturing know-how. The overall aim is to develop next-generation vaccines with improved efficacy.

The project is supported by funding from the European Union, the U.K. government, and Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI). 

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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