Research Roundup: New financing scheme to boost access, mRNA tech to be applied to malaria vaccine research, and genetic engineering could help eliminate malaria
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On Monday, the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility and the World Bank launched a new financing mechanism to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines in low- and middle-income countries. The scheme builds on the existing COVAX advance market commitment (AMC) mechanism by allowing AMC-eligible countries to make additional advance purchases through COVAX—beyond the fully donor-subsidized doses AMC-eligible countries are already receiving—based on aggregate demand across countries, using financing from the World Bank. The new plan will also provide participating countries with greater transparency on vaccine availability, prices, and delivery schedules, enabling them to implement vaccination plans more effectively. COVAX has so far delivered around 150 million doses to 137 countries and aims to deliver 2 billion doses by the end of this year, in addition to 1.8 billion next year.
BioNTech intends to begin clinical trials for a “safe and highly effective malaria vaccine,” based on the mRNA technology behind its COVID-19 vaccine, by the end of next year, the company announced last week. Developing a vaccine able to induce a strong, long-lasting antibody response against malaria is difficult, as the genome of the parasite that causes malaria is more complex than viruses, according to researchers—however, insights from developing an mRNA-based vaccine against COVID-19, combined with a growing understanding of how malaria works, could make this an optimal time to address the challenge, a BioNTech representative said. BioNTech is also looking to establish an mRNA vaccine production facility in Africa, bolstering manufacturing capabilities on the continent and ultimately producing various mRNA-based vaccines beyond COVID-19.
Researchers were able to wipe out a population of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes using a genetic engineering method that renders females infertile, according to study results published Wednesday. The gene-drive technology aims to bypass natural selection by plugging in a set of genetic instructions that rapidly spread through a population and pass on an infertility trait—far faster than could be achieved through conventional selective breeding. The new study tested whether gene drive of a sex determination gene—which has been previously tested, successfully, in a smaller trial—would spread and cause the same population collapse in closer to real-world conditions. Researchers plan to continue with more comprehensive gene-drive testing and environmental risk assessments before moving to larger field trials. The self-sustaining and fast-acting technology is meant to work alongside existing tools, such as bednets, insecticides, and vaccines.