COVID-19 Vaccine, Check. Next Up, Malaria.

BioNTech_Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty

Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty

Mainz, Germany-based BioNTech, best known for its COVID-19 vaccine partnered with Pfizer, is turning its vaccine expertise toward malaria. The company announced its Malaria project, part of the “eradicateMalaria” initiative led by the kENUP Foundation.

The first goal is to develop a safe and effective mRNA vaccine to prevent malaria. It plans to evaluate multiple vaccine candidates with known malaria targets, including the circumsporozoite protein (CSP), in addition to new antigens that they’ve identified in preclinical studies. They will then pick the most promising for clinical development, with a clinical study planned for the end of next year.

The second goal is “the development of sustainable vaccine production and supply solutions on the African continent.” The company is considering establishing mRNA manufacturing facilities with partners or on its own. These factories would make mRNA-based vaccines if approved in order to ensure sustainable supply. It expects to co-locate its African manufacturing operations with technology transfer hubs currently being developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in compliance with the African manufacturing strategy created by the Africa CDC.

“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,” said Ugur Sahin, chief executive officer and co-founder of BioNTech. “We are committed to bringing our innovations to those who need them most.”

In addition to the WHO, the European Commission and other groups have been involved in the early planning stages of the vaccine project.

In 2019, the WHO estimated there were 229 million cases of malaria worldwide, with at least 409,000 deaths. Most of the cases were in Africa, and children under the age of five are the most affected.

Sahin went on to say that, “We are more than grateful to be part of the joint efforts of the Eradicate Malaria project. 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.”

BioNTech has been working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since 2019 on developing programs against HIV and tuberculosis (TB) and ways of offering affordable vaccine access to low- and middle-income countries. The company expects to launch clinical trials for a tuberculosis vaccine in 2022. 

BioNTech and its partners are working to create vaccines against nine different infectious diseases, as well as its 15 oncology programs. Not all are mRNA programs.

The kENUP Foundation is a non-profit public benefit organization that supports research-based innovation in the health industries. It begins and assists public and private investment. Its focus, the foundation says, is on vaccines, human monoclonal antibodies, nanobodies, therapeutics, cell therapies, diagnostics, and the production of biologicals. 

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the WHO, who began his career in malaria research, stated, “The very high efficacy of two mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 has shown the world just how powerful this technology could be against many diseases, including malaria.”

GlaxoSmithKline has the only licensed malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, but its efficacy is around 30%. Oxford’s Jenner Institute is also working on a new malaria vaccine.


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