January 28, 2018

Research Roundup: Rotavirus vaccine prequalified and breakthroughs in understanding leprosy and a long-acting malaria medicine

Program Assistant
PATH/Satvir Malhotra

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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

The World Health Organization has prequalified Bharart Biotech’s rotavirus vaccine—ROTAVAC—enabling United Nations agencies and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance to purchase the vaccine for use in low-income countries (LIC). Bharat is currently supplying the vaccine to LICs at one US dollar per dose and expects to be able to reduce the price if a threshold of doses are purchased. Rotavirus is the leading cause of severe diarrhea and death in children younger than five years. ROTAVAC presents a new low-cost vaccine option to prevent rotavirus and is the first licensed rotavirus vaccine to be developed using a strain of the virus isolated, manufactured, and tested in India.

A team of scientists have sequenced and analyzed genomes of multiple leprosy strains from around the world in an attempt to understand previously unknown mechanisms of drug resistance. Scientists found many of the genomes harbored large numbers of random mutations, explaining why many strains of the disease have become resistant to commonly used medicines. Leprosy is a painful disease that affects over 200,000 people every year, causing major damage to the skin, nerves, and eyes. Understanding the genomic structure and mutations of leprosy will aid scientists in developing effective treatments for leprosy and drug-resistant leprosy.

Researchers at the University of Liverpool and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have developed a long-acting injectable form of malaria medicine that could simplify and improve malaria prevention. The scientists used nanotechnology—or the manipulation of matter on an atomic or molecular scale—to improve the delivery of an existing antimalarial through a new injectable formulation that can maintain blood concentration of the drug for weeks or months. Once injected into the muscle, this delivery method establishes a medicine depot that releases the antimalarial into the bloodstream over an extended period of time. Malaria chemoprophylaxis—the administration of antimalarial drugs prior to potential exposure—is a common malaria prevention strategy, but it requires patients take medicine daily to be effective. While still in the early stages of development, this new long-acting medicine could offer an alternative approach that may help patients improve adherence.