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BioNTech sets sights on malaria vaccine

July 26, 2021

After developing a coronavirus vaccine in record time, the German pharmaceutical company aims to start trialing a malaria shot next year using the same breakthrough mRNA technology.

Image taken January 20, 2021 shows the manufacturing process of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
Using mRNA technology, BioNTech hopes to 'eradicate' malariaImage: BionTech/REUTERS

BioNTech wants "to help eradicate malaria" by using the same breakthrough mRNA technology it used to develop its coronavirus vaccine, the pharmaceutical company said on Monday.

The Germany-based group said it aimed to begin clinical malaria vaccine trials by the end of 2022.

If successful, the shot could be a major development in the fight against malaria, which kills more than 400,000 people a year — mainly young children in Africa. The disease is caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans.

"We will do whatever it takes to develop a safe and effective mRNA-based malaria vaccine that will prevent the disease, reduce mortality and ensure a sustainable solution for the African continent and other regions affected by this disease," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

BioNTech Africa facility planned

The project is backed by the World Health Organization, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Union.

BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved coronavirus shot together with US partner Pfizer, said it is also hoping to establish an mRNA vaccine production unit in Africa. The continent has so far struggled to get sufficient supply of coronavirus vaccine doses.

EU: 'A revolution in medical science'

"We are witnessing the start of a revolution in medical science, the revolution of messenger RNA," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Monday.

"Eradicating malaria is now a realistic goal and now we know that it can be achieved already in this generation."

Scientists believe mRNA technology, which prompts an immune response by delivering genetic molecules containing the code for key parts of a pathogen into human cells, could be a game-changer against several diseases.

Using this technology is also a faster way of developing a vaccine than traditional methods and could bring an end to the decades-long search for a reliable malaria shot.

jsi/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)