August is National Immunization Awareness Month, dedicated to furthering efforts to provide what are oftentimes lifesaving vaccinations to those in need. While media coverage of the flu vaccine has become a seasonal commonplace, vaccines are currently being sought for many modern large-scale epidemics.
One of the greatest global public health risks facing the world today is malaria, an infectious disease transmitted by a parasite transmitted by mosquitoes, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates as responsible for over 1 million deaths each year. With estimates as high as 500 million new cases annually, perhaps the most frightening news is that current climate changes may cause these numbers to rise in the coming years.
“Forty-one percent of the human race lives in areas of high malaria transmission,” says Dr. Sylvain Fleury, chief scientific officer at Mymetics, a Swiss vaccine biotech currently developing a vaccine with the potential to control malaria in developing countries. “Because Europe, North America, and North Asia are now significantly colder than regions of high malaria incidence, developed nations have felt immune from the malaria threat, but that sense may soon be upended.”
Europe’s average temperature has increased by nearly one degree Celsius (approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit) during the past century, and the world’s average temperature could rise by another 3.5 degrees Celsius (six degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. Studies have shown that even such modest temperature increases could extend the proliferation of malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Therefore, as temperatures rise, billions of people could find themselves living in regions of high malaria incidence.
“The best way to prevent the spread of malaria into warming areas of the globe is to find a solution before the situation worsens,” says Fleury. “If we can begin to curb the spread of malaria in high-threat areas, the eventual reach of the disease will be seriously limited.”
With malaria already gaining hold in areas that had previously eradicated the disease – Peru, which eliminated malaria 40 years ago, reported 64,000 cases last year alone; America saw 1,337 cases, including eight deaths, as recently as 2002 — the importance of developing a vaccine for the disease is becoming more and more urgent.
Professor Odile Mercereau-Puijalon, of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and a member of the malaria scientific board of the Gates Foundation, wrote that he was “impressed” by Mymetics’ scientific approach to vaccine development, and described the company’s development-stage vaccine candidates as “exciting.” Vaccines typically employ an “antigen,” or agent that induces disease-fighting immunity. Mymetics delivers malaria antigens through a particle called a “virosome,” which is essentially an empty, non-infectious virus particle.
Virosomes serve as vehicles for introducing the antigen to the immune system, and also provide immune stimulation on their own thereby avoiding the necessity of any adjuvant addition. Furthermore, Mymetics’ vaccine design combines both this cutting-edge technologic platform and an innovative antigen engineering that minimizes human protein homologies in order to avoid any potential autoimmune developments. Finally, Fleury stated “We also believe that the vaccine effectiveness will be improved by targeting the different maturation forms of the parasite during the infectious cycle, instead of the classical strategy to target only one of them.”
Source: Mymetics Corporation