The European Commission (EC) has donated $10.47 million to Africa to aid in the development of a vaccine targeted at preventing placental malaria.
Placental malaria occurs when infected maternal red blood cells accumulate in the placental intervillous space, resulting in stillbirths, low birth weight, pre-term birth or babies who are born smaller than usual.
“With this support from the EC, we take a major step towards developing an effective and affordable vaccine against placental malaria, a condition that affects pregnant women in low-income countries, some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” said Executive Director of the European Vaccine Initiative, Ole Olesen.
It is estimated that in 2020, 11 million or about 34 percent of pregnant women globally were exposed to malaria, accounting for an estimated 200,000 infant deaths annually, 819,000 children with low birth weight and over 20 percent of all maternal deaths in malaria-endemic areas.
At the same time, statistics from the World Health Organization indicated that Africa was home to 95 percent of malaria cases and 96 percent of malaria deaths.
Placental malaria can cause anaemia and high blood pressure in first-time pregnant women, and low birth weight, which are associated with a higher risk of foetal and neonate illness and mortality.
Currently, the prevention of placental malaria relies on long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and intermittent preventive treatment during pregnancy.
“These interventions however only offer partial protection. The development of an effective vaccine could, therefore, be an attractive tool to control placental
on its own, or to complement the existing yet imperfect tools,” said the Advance-VAC4PM consortium that will lead the project.
The new funding will advance the use of a novel vaccine platform based on capside-virus-like particles (cVLPs) and evaluation of co-administration of PRIMVAC and PAMVAC-cVLP with the ultimate goal to improve and broaden the vaccine-induced immune response.
Digital tools will be developed for monitoring pregnancy outcomes in preparation for future efficacy trials. Modelling the cost-effectiveness, feasibility and acceptability of placental malaria vaccines will also be conducted.