AsianScientist (Apr. 5, 2016) – The Global Health Innovative Technology Fund (GHIT Fund) will be investing over US$1,380,000 in a pair of innovative malaria eradication tools: a vaccine that could block transmission of two species of the deadly disease, and a rapid field test that can reveal a malaria infection in minutes.
Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of people every year, mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the burden has decreased in recent years, the ever-evolving malaria parasite has proven to be resilient, constantly shifting to develop resistance to the world’s most effective drugs and insecticides.
Alarmed by the threat of drug resistance, the malaria research community is pushing for transmission-blocking vaccines to be ready for deployment by 2030. To this end, GHIT is investing in a collaboration between Japan-based biotech firm, CellFree Sciences Co. Ltd., and the University of Florida in the US to develop a malaria vaccine that would target both the deadly Plasmodium falciparum and the widespread Plasmodium vivax malaria.
CellFree Sciences’ candidate is a mosquito-based transmission-blocking vaccine, meaning that while this type of vaccine is given to humans, the target is the mosquito. When mosquitoes bite vaccinated humans, the blood they extract would contain antibodies generated by the vaccine that would interfere with the parasite’s passage from human to mosquito, effectively breaking the cycle of transmission.
Another major obstacle to malaria eradication involves humans who carry substantial “reservoirs” of malaria parasites and regularly pass them along to mosquitoes, even as they themselves experience no outward symptoms of actual disease. GHIT is confronting this problem by supporting the development of a diagnostic system for detecting asymptomatic malaria.
The goal of this project, involving a collaboration between Japan-based researchers and collaborators, is to develop highly sensitive testing technology that could work in low-resource field settings and determine in less than ten minutes whether an asymptomatic person is carrying parasites.
The ability to quickly screen large populations for the presence of malaria parasites is considered crucial; a treated person may look like they have been cured, even if the drug has actually failed to completely purge their parasites.
The GHIT Fund also revealed that it is investing in the development of a new diagnostic test for tuberculosis—which has now overtaken HIV as the leading cause of death from infectious disease—and contribute to funding to develop treatments for two neglected tropical diseases that affect billions. These are leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by sand flies that can cause disfiguring skin ulcers or even fatal organ failure; and soil-transmitted helminthiasis infections, which are caused by parasitic worms and routinely lead to physical and cognitive impairments in children.
“Our new investments in malaria, TB and these neglected tropical diseases send a clear message that GHIT and Japan are committed to employing the most innovative and advanced R&D tools available to save lives and improve health in the developing world,” said GHIT Fund executive director and CEO, Dr. BT Slingsby.
The first of its kind in Japan, the GHIT Fund is a public-private partnership between seven Japanese pharmaceutical companies, the Japanese government, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the United Nations Development Program.
Source: GHIT Fund.
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