Research Roundup: A malaria vaccine recommendation, potential dengue drug, and African health agency
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization recommended broad rollout of the world’s first malaria vaccine, known as RTS,S, among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. The recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot program—which has reached more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi since 2019—showing the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness in remote and rural settings. Clinical trials of RTS,S, which was developed by GSK and PATH with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, indicated it reduces the risk of contracting malaria by 40 percent and risk of hospitalization for severe malaria by 30 percent. The vaccine will now face funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout and country decision-making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.
A new study has identified a compound able to block dengue virus replication in test tube experiments and in mice, researchers reported in Nature last week. There are currently no specific medicines to treat dengue, which infects more than 400 million people annually and can lead to fevers, rashes, and muscle and joint aches. Researchers behind the new study screened tens of thousands of small molecules for anti-dengue activity using an automated high-throughput testing process, then tweaked several molecules to produce more than 2,000 compounds for further testing. One of those drugs, JNJ-A07, proved equally potent against all four dengue serotypes in test tube experiments. In subsequent testing in mice, the compound was highly effective in reducing viral loads and viral-induced disease. The drug will be further tested in clinical trials for safety and efficacy in humans, according to developer Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson.
The African Medicines Agency (AMA) treaty was ratified by its 15th African Union (AU) member country last week, meeting the threshold for the agency to be officially set up. The treaty was adopted by the AU in February 2019, though it required ratification and formal notification from 15 countries to launch implementation. Following Cameroon’s ratification on Tuesday, the AU now has 30 days, or until November 5, to begin setting up the agency, which is intended to support African countries in improving and harmonizing the regulation of medicines across the continent in order to improve access to quality, safe, and efficacious products. The AMA will be Africa’s second continental health agency, joining the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.