Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tentative Progress: Toward A Potential Malaria Vaccine

The image at right depicts just how daunting the task is: find one unique region in that tangled mass of protein, to target (and block) -- and thus short-circuit the Byzantine micro-machinery of its replication. The image is of a protein cluster, inside the core of plasmodium falciparum, a common transporter of the disease we call malaria.

Merck, among others, gets credit here -- for pursuing a vaccine which will likely be -- at the very best -- a financial breakeven proposition. [Backgrounders here, and here.]

Here's some of that story, tonight:

. . . .Development of a vaccine to prevent the malaria parasite from entering the human liver is the goal of a new collaboration announced today by global leaders in malaria research and vaccine development. The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), Merck (known outside the US and Canada as MSD), and NYU Langone Medical Center are working together to evaluate an approach targeting a novel part of a major surface protein on the malaria parasite. Malaria is estimated to kill close to 900,000 people each year with the majority of deaths occurring in children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa.

The circumsporozoite protein (CSP) has been recognized as a potential target in the development of vaccines focused on the earlier stages of malaria infection. The researchers working on this project are focusing on a new approach that targets a region of CSP important to a critical function of the protein. By blocking this function, it is hoped that invasion of the parasite into the liver, an essential step in causing malaria disease, can be prevented.

“We think we can improve the way sub-unit vaccines are designed by strategically targeting this critical protein function,” noted Dr. Elizabeth Nardin, professor in the Department of Medical Parasitology at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Other vaccine approaches targeting CSP have required extremely high levels of antibody, which are difficult to elicit and to maintain. This approach has the potential to address that problem.”

The rationale for pursuing this targeted “peptide protein conjugate” approach is based on knowledge of both the vaccine technology to be used and the targeting of a particular malaria protein known to elicit an immune response. . . .

This is but one step, however, on the road to a true malaria vaccine.

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