After the enormous global success of the Comirnaty vaccine produced in cooperation with American Pfizer, BioNTech plans to use its experience in working with mRNA technology to develop vaccines against malaria. Tests are scheduled to begin next year.
BioNTech informed on Monday (26 July) that they want to contribute to “eradicating malaria”, using the same technology that helped to develop vaccines against COVID-19. The German company plans to begin clinical tests by the end of 2022.
“The response to the pandemic has shown that science and innovation can transform people’s lives when all key stakeholders work together towards a common goal. We are committed to bringing our innovations to those who need them most,” said Prof. Dr Uğur Şahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.
Şahin referred to the fruitful cooperation with American company Pfizer which resulted in the invention of the Comirnaty vaccine, deemed so far the most reliable and safest vaccine against COVID-19.
The aim is to reduce mortality and start vaccine production in Africa
“We are more than grateful to be part of the joint efforts of the Eradicate Malaria project,” emphasized Şahin.
“Together with our partners, 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,” he added.
Not only does the company intend to provide a malaria vaccine to all regions in need, but also to move its production to Africa later on. “This strategy aims to expand the capacity of low- and middle-income countries to manufacture contemporary vaccines end-to-end, and scale-up production to increase global access,” explains BioNTech in a statement published on its website.
The medical company says that the efforts they put into this project “will include cutting-edge research and innovation, significant investments in vaccine development, the establishment of manufacturing facilities, and the transfer of manufacturing expertise to production sites on the African continent and wherever else it is needed.”
Eradicating malaria is a realistic goal
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Commission support the new BioNTech’s initiative and are engaged in the project from an early stage offering support in organising required infrastructure.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the efforts of the German company and expressed her hopes related to the initiative. “Eradicating malaria is a realistic goal. And now we know that it can be achieved already in this generation,” she said during the event Fighting Infectious Diseases – Focus on Africa on Monday (26 July).
BioNTech also cooperates with the African Union and Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which are going to help to coordinate the project in Africa and will be responsible for the bureaucracy and distribution of the vaccines. Tests are scheduled to begin by the end of next year.
mRNA – technology of the future?
“We are witnessing the start of a revolution in medical science. The revolution of messenger RNA” said von der Leyen. Scientists see the use of template RNA in vaccine production as a breakthrough technology that could have a substantial role in the fight against many diseases.
mRNA vaccines are the new generation vaccines in which ribonucleic acid (RNA) is used as a template for the production of viral proteins responsible for antibodies. These antibodies are then transferred into our immune system.
Template RNA does not penetrate the cell nucleus, where our genetic material (DNA) resides, so a vaccine based on this technology cannot affect human genome.
BioNTech and mRNA vaccines
Biopharmaceutical New Technologies, founded in 2008, is one of the leaders in using mRNA technology in vaccine production. Their most popular product so far is the vaccine against COVID-19 developed in cooperation with Pfizer.
BioNTech is also trying to develop mRNA vaccines for other diseases such as melanoma malignum (melanotic cancer) or Metastatic Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) caused by Papillomavirus 16 (HPV16+).
In 2019 the company established cooperation with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work on a vaccine against HIV and a new vaccine against tuberculosis which will undergo clinical tests next year.
Malaria in the world
Malaria, also known as ague or jungle fever, is a tropical disease caused by Plasmodium parasites. Septic female Anopheles mosquitoes spread the infection by biting.
According to WHO’s data, 229 million people were infected with malaria in 2019. The disease caused the death of more than 400,000 people.
Children under the age of 5 are at the highest risk of being infected. In 2019 they were accounted for 67 percent (274,000) of all of those who have died of malaria in the world.
Africa remains the most affected continent, with more than 94 percent of all cases recorded two years ago.