SEATTLE--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Dec. 17, 2003--Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) today announced that it will intensify the quest for a vaccine to prevent malaria in pregnant women with a $10 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant supports the efforts of SBRI's Malaria Antigen Discovery (MAD) Program to develop a pregnancy malaria vaccine, which has the potential to protect millions of pregnant women and their unborn children each year.
The grant from the Gates Foundation enables SBRI to expand research efforts to identify optimal antigens for inclusion in a multi-component vaccine that would prevent malaria during pregnancy. All candidate antigens for a pregnancy malaria vaccine will undergo intensive immunologic and functional assessment at SBRI's labs in Seattle and at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, with which SBRI collaborates. The most promising candidates will then be studied at the field laboratory in Muheza, Tanzania, where SBRI and Tanzanian scientists are researching malaria in pregnant mothers and their infants.
"This grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support SBRI's research that could lead to the first vaccine to prevent pregnancy malaria," said Ken Stuart, Ph.D., SBRI's president and founder. "This allows us to build upon the discoveries we've made and bring us closer to fulfilling our mission of developing vaccines that will prevent deadly infectious diseases like malaria."
Three years ago, the Gates Foundation provided a $5 million, three-year grant to initiate the MAD Program at SBRI. Since that time, the program has expanded to nearly 30 malaria researchers, including principal investigators LTC Patrick Duffy, M.D., Jean Feagin, Ph.D., Stefan Kappe, Ph.D., and Joseph Smith, Ph.D., who have been awarded an additional $10 million in competitive research grants to further research into the components for malaria vaccines.
SBRI's MAD Program is a multi-faceted approach for developing malaria vaccines, using advanced technologies to identify and assess candidate antigens for vaccines for pregnancy malaria, malaria in children and early-stage malaria. The program's pregnancy malaria initiative builds upon discoveries made by Duffy, who heads SBRI's MAD Program, and Michal Fried, Ph.D., an associate scientist in the MAD program, while working in Kenya in the 1990s. Three candidate antigens have undergone initial studies for a pregnancy malaria vaccine that will elicit antibodies against placental parasites. Using functional genomics, SBRI's MAD researchers more recently identified over 20 additional antigens that could provide the basis for a pregnancy malaria vaccine.
The Gates Foundation grant will allow SBRI to evaluate leading pregnancy malaria candidates, as well as identify and assess additional parasite proteins that will contribute to vaccine efficacy. The antigens will be prioritized for production and testing while the tools and field sites to support efficacy trials are being established.
"An effective pregnancy malaria vaccine will depend upon the discovery of viable antigens," said Regina Rabinovich, M.D., director of the Gates Foundation's Infectious Diseases program. "SBRI has clearly demonstrated its ability to conduct this type of vital research. This grant furthers that research."
Each year, malaria poses a major threat to millions of pregnant women and their unborn children around the world, including nearly 30 million pregnant women in endemic areas of Africa alone. Pregnant women, as well as young children, are especially vulnerable to malaria. The severe anemia caused by malaria in pregnant women can result in miscarriage, premature births or stillbirth. Babies born to women infected with malaria during pregnancy are likely to have a low birth weight, making them especially vulnerable to infections and, too often, leading to death. In areas of Africa, malaria infection during pregnancy is estimated to cause as many as 10,000 maternal deaths and about 200,000 infant deaths each year.
"We look forward to accelerating our research because a vaccine to protect pregnant women and their unborn children from malaria is crucial to improving pregnancy outcomes," said Duffy, who also holds a position at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, with which SBRI has a Collaborative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA). "The Gates Foundation has raised the bar for global health, highlighting the importance of researching diseases that are too often neglected. A vaccine to prevent pregnancy malaria is feasible -- we believe it's within our grasp."
SBRI has begun recruitment of new scientists for the MAD Program, which will have more physical space for expansion when SBRI moves into its new home in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood in March 2004.
Seattle Biomedical Research Institute advances global health through key research discoveries. Founded in 1976, SBRI is the largest independent, non-profit research institute in the United States focused solely on the world's most devastating diseases, including malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. The mission of SBRI's 155 employees is to conduct targeted research leading to the prevention, diagnosis and cure of global infectious diseases, responsible for the deaths of 14 million people each year. SBRI's discoveries have resulted in advanced diagnostic tools, promising leads for vaccines and drug targets, and seminal contributions to scientific knowledge. For more information about SBRI, visit www.sbri.org.
About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is building upon the unprecedented opportunities of the 21st century to improve equity in global health and learning. Led by Bill Gates' father, William H. Gates Sr., and Patty Stonesifer, the Seattle-based foundation has an endowment of approximately $25 billion. For more information, go to www.gatesfoundation.org.
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Source: Seattle Biomedical Research Institute