(Corrects mRNA description in paragraph 7 to pathogen from virus)
BERLIN (Reuters) – BioNTech wants to build on its success in COVID-19 by developing the first vaccine for malaria based on mRNA technology and aims to start clinical testing by the end on 2022, in an attempt to eradicate the mosquito-borne illness.
The Mainz, Germany-based company, which developed a COVID-19 vaccine with its partner Pfizer, said on Monday it is also exploring vaccine production in Africa as part of efforts to expand manufacturing capacity and increase global access.
“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 BioNTech Chief Executive and co-founder Ugur Sahin.
Scientists around the world have been working for decades to develop a vaccine to prevent malaria that infects millions of people every year and kills more than 400,000 – most of them babies and young children in the poorest parts of Africa.
The world’s first and only licensed malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline over many years of clinical trial across several African countries, but is only around 30% effective.
Researchers at Oxford’s Jenner Institute led by Adrian Hill, one of the lead scientists behind the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, are also developing a potential new malaria vaccine that has shown promise in a year-long trial.
MRNA vaccines prompt the human body to make a protein that is part of the pathogen, triggering an immune response.
BioNTech said it will assess multiple vaccine candidates that target the circumsporozoite protein (CSP), as well as new antigens discovered in pre-clinical research and select the most promising for a clinical trial due to start by the end of 2022.
The company is also evaluating setting up mRNA vaccine production in Africa, either with partners or on its own, as part of efforts to scale up manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries.
BioNTech did not disclose how the project would be funded, but said the World Health Organisation (WHO), European Commission and other organisations have offered their support to set up the necessary infrastructure.
BioNTech also plans to start a clinical trial to test a vaccine candidate for tuberculosis in 2022 and is working with partners to develop vaccines against nine different infectious diseases as well as for cancer.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Bernadette Baum)