04.03.2013 - Researchers from the PlacMalVac project have bagged €6m from the EU to start clinical trials of a placental malaria vaccine.
Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to malaria, due to a particular type of pathology. Their infected blood cells clump together in the placenta, leading to growth retardation and preterm delivery, which in turn cause higher infant mortality. For the first time, a EU consortium of 5 partners led by University of Copenhagen will now begin clinical trials with a vaccine that blocks that blood aggregation in placenta-associated malaria (PAM). It targets the var2CSA protein, which causes aggregation of Plasmodium falciparum-infected erythrocytes by adhesion to the primary placental adherence receptor, chondroitin sulphate A (CSA), present in the placental intervillous blood spaces. Infected mice not carrying var2CSA do not show the PAM-associated effects.
“This will be the first clinical trial using the parasite antigens", said project coordinator Thor G. Theander from the University of Copenhagen. "The vaccine attempts not to eliminate the infection but to eliminate the disease. At Centre for Medical Parasitology we are all thrilled to have this opportunity. It marks an intermediate highpoint of many years of committed research.”
In previous projects supported by the Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation, Theander's team defined a smaller region of multi-domain protein var2CSA. Overall they identified three antigenic regions within it that are crucial for blocking PAM in rats. "We managed proof of concept for the malaria vaccine and we are currently addressing manufacturability of the vaccine. The funding from EU FP7 will enable us to continue the development including upstream and downstream process development, GMP production, Phase Ia and Ib human clinical trials, as well as preparations for Phase II clinical trials."
Theander now heads the EU consortium, which includes University of Copenhagen, ExpreS2ion Biotechnologies (Denmark), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (France), Université d'Abomey-Calavi (Benin), University of Tübingen and the European Vaccine Initiative (EVI). The EVI has mobilised further €10m for the development of PAM vaccines within the projects PRIMALVAC and PAMCPH.
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