April 28, 2023 — Adapted from a conversation with Lorraine Soisson, PhD, and Robin Miller, PhD.
Lorraine Soisson is a senior technical advisor and Robin Miller is a technical advisor supporting USAID’s Malaria Vaccine Development Program (MVDP) within the Bureau for Global Health. They support USAID through the Global Health Technical, Advisory, and Support Contract (GHTASC).
There has been some incredible progress over the last several decades on malaria treatment and prevention, but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 600,000 people died from malaria in 2021. Most of those deaths occurred in children; that’s still a huge disease burden for so many nations and a vast human tragedy.
As part of USAID’s multi-pronged approach to the treatment and prevention of a disease that threatens the health of half the global population, the USAID Malaria Vaccine Development Program (MVDP) is working to advance next-generation malaria vaccines.
The first malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01 was recommended by the WHO in 2021. It was truly groundbreaking. Malaria is a parasitic infection—most often carried from person to person by mosquitoes. RTS,S was the first successful vaccine developed to address a disease caused by a parasite in humans. It was something previously thought by some to be unachievable, and the breakthrough has given the global health community hope.
The current vaccine improves the chances that young children survive their most vulnerable years, but it is only moderately efficacious overall and requires multiple doses and boosters. The focus of the MVDP right now is developing a vaccine that is more efficacious, more durable, and more affordable so it can have a bigger impact on the disease globally.
Researchers now have more tools than ever to help accomplish this. With the success of the mRNA vaccine for COVID and other novel vaccine delivery systems; the application of structural biology to provide a better understanding of how a protective antibody in a human binds to its target on the parasite; and novel adjuvants, which can improve vaccine efficacy, the vaccine development program has multiple avenues to explore.
At USAID, the work of the MVDP is strengthened by partnerships across the U.S. government and with private and academic institutions in the United States and abroad. These skilled partners, along with USAID’s expertise, are helping vaccines move from strategic research and prototyping through preclinical and early clinical testing.
Malaria vaccines in combination with other proven malaria interventions, such as mosquito nets, insecticide spraying, diagnosis and treatment, and chemoprevention methods are all part of the malaria control toolkit aimed at reducing malaria cases and deaths in malaria endemic communities.