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Infectious diseases

Malaria vaccine inefficiency explained by researchers

Genetic variation in the parasite that causes malaria may explain why a vaccine developed against the disease has only moderate efficacy.

The efficacy of the recently developed RTS,S malaria vaccine depends on the local parasite population. In the image, micrograph of the malaria-causing parasite, plasmodium falciparum

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The parasite that causes malaria (Plasmodium falciparum, pictured) has genetic variants that may explain why developing a vaccine against the disease has proven difficult

Attempts to develop an effective vaccine against malaria have proved extremely challenging. A recently developed malaria vaccine – RTS,S – only conveyed moderate protection in phase III trials and now US researchers believe they know why. 

RTS,S targets a protein on the surface of the malaria-causing parasite Plasmodium falciparum. But this protein has multiple genetic variants and the vaccine only targets one. 

By sequencing DNA samples from nearly 5,000 vaccinated children, researchers found that the one-year efficacy was 50.3% against parasites that matched the vaccine compared with just 33.4% when the vaccine and parasite were mismatched. 

Writing in The New England Journal of Medicine (online, 21 October 2015)[1], the researchers say the findings show the vaccine’s efficacy therefore depends on the local parasite population. The research should inform the future development of malaria vaccines, as well as other infectious diseases, they add.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2015.20069607

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Supplementary images

  • The efficacy of the recently developed RTS,S malaria vaccine depends on the local parasite population. In the image, micrograph of the malaria-causing parasite, plasmodium falciparum

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