The final trials of a malaria vaccine hailed as a breakthrough in April have been approved for Kenya, Tanzania, Mali and Burkina Faso.
In Kenya 600 children will participate in the trials approved by the country’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
The trials will be financed by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the firm that is supplying Kenya with the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid 19 vaccine.
Recently researchers at Oxford University, UK announced trials of the new vaccine – R21/Matrix-M – in Burkina Faso, had shown a 77 per cent efficacy in children; the highest ever for a malaria jab.
This is far way ahead of the 28.3 per cent protection offered by the Mosquirix malaria vaccine currently been piloted in western Kenya. Efficacy for Mosquirix, made by GlaxoSmithKline Plc of UK starts to wane after four years.
Lead investigator for the new vaccine, Adrian Hill, of Oxford’s Jenner Institute said they now plan to conduct final stage trials in some 4,800 children aged between 5 months and 3 years in Kenya, Tanzania, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Oxford University in the study protocol says the new vaccine apart from being more efficacious it may be cheaper than Mosquirix.
Mosquirix, they say is likely to be expensive due to the manufacturing process, costing about Sh3, 000 for the required four doses which ‘may prove difficult to fund.’
“The manufacturing process for the new R21/Matrix-M vaccine is improved and likely to be less costly than Mosquirix.”
Human challenge trials
The new vaccine will be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India which in 2020 acquired the technology rights from Novavax Inc of the US in exchange for royalties.
SII will sell the vaccine to malaria-endemic countries mainly in Africa and Asia while Novavax retains commercial rights primarily in the travelers’ and military vaccine markets.
The vaccine however is not new in Kenya with initial safety studies including controversial human challenge trials having been hosted in Kilifi since 2018.
The proposed trials at the KEMRI Wellcome Trust centre in Kilifi will recruit 600 children aged 5-17 months. Of these 400 will get the vaccine while 200 will act as control. Each participant is expected to make about 10 visits to the study clinic for vaccination and follow-up.
Volunteers, the study protocol says will not incur any costs but will be compensated for travel and other out of pocket expenses.
“These costs will vary but maybe up to approximately Sh 2,000 per visit when catering for refreshments and additional transport requirements.”
Each participant will get three vaccination at day 0, 28, and 56 and a booster dose at 12 months.
This comes even as African scientists including from African Population Health Research Center, Nairobi, and KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Nairobi accuse Western donors of biased malaria funding in Africa.
They cite a recent US$30 million (about Sh3.3 billion) grant from the US President’s Malaria Initiative to the American non-governmental organisation PATH.
“The grant funded a consortium of seven institutions in the USA, the UK, and Australia to support African countries in malaria elimination but nothing went to an African institution,” they complain in the journal Nature Medicine.
This type of funding, they say is responsible for the high disease burden, poor health systems, and capacity in the continent despite huge donors spending.
For example, they say, in 2017, the USA, UK, and Canada collectively spent US$ 1.1 billion (about Sh119 billion) in malaria aid.
Of this, the scientists say 81 per cent went to institutions in the funding country, 18 per cent to NGOs from high-income countries with just about one per cent going to Africa’s institutions.
The current funding structures, they say create an imbalance of power and a monopoly that favors Western agencies while locking out African institutions. “This must end.”
By Gatonye Gathura