December 09, 2019

Research Roundup: Once-a-month birth control pill, experimental typhoid fever vaccine, and release of 2019 World Malaria Report

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Patrick McKern

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Researchers have reported that a once-a-month birth control pill that gradually releases a contraceptive drug worked as designed in a key test in animals. The experimental device is small and star-shaped with six arms that each hold a certain dose of medication. The device is folded inside an ordinary-sized pill capsule. Once swallowed, its coating is dissolved by stomach acid, allowing the star to unfold. As the medication slowly dissolves out of each of the arms, the device breaks down until it can safely pass through the digestive system. Experts caution that more safety testing is required before the device can be tested in women and question whether the device dissolves in the same way in different people. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is investing US$13 million for further development of the device, which could improve family planning options for women in developing countries.

The first field trial of a new typhoid vaccine that can be used in young children has shown it protected 81.6 percent of recipients. The trial, which took place in Nepal and included children as young as nine months old, provides evidence of the vaccine’s potential level of impact for preventing typhoid, a bacterial infection often spread through contaminated water which leaves people sick for weeks or months. As some strains, particularly in South Asia, become resistant to antibiotics, prevention of the disease has become particularly important. There are two other typhoid vaccines, but one comes in a capsule too large for young children to swallow, and the second is an injection that doesn’t work in children under the age of two. This new vaccine, known as TCV, has already been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO)’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, and further two-year field tests are also underway in Bangladesh and Africa to gauge its effectiveness in other regions. Typhoid affects 11 million people every year and kills approximately 117,000.

Last week, WHO released its 2019 World Malaria Report, which notes that the fight against the mosquito-borne disease has stalled. According to the report, malaria still infects millions of people every year, killing more than 400,000 which are mostly children in Africa. The report also found that an estimated 11 million women in sub-Saharan Africa—29 percent of all pregnancies—were infected with malaria in 2018, leading to nearly 900,000 children being born with a low birthweight. Additionally, the report cites that funding for the fight against malaria is broadly flat and calls on donor nations and governments in countries affected by the disease to step up the fight, noting that global political commitment and investment is critical to sustaining progress.