Fresh off of developing one of the world's leading COVID-19 vaccines, BioNTech has its sights set on a new target: Malaria.
The German drugmaker, which teamed up with Pfizer to develop the United States' first authorized COVID vaccine, announced Monday that it intends to develop the first mRNA-based vaccine for malaria prevention, saying that it hopes to begin clinical trials by the end of 2022.
“We are already working on HIV and and tuberculosis, and malaria is the third big indication (disease) with a high unmet medical need,” the company's CEO and co-founder Dr. Ugur Sahin, told The Associated Press. “It has an incredible high number of people being infected every year, a high number of patients dying, a particularly severe disease and high mortality in small children.”
According to the World Health Organization, there were about 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019. The global body estimates that 409,000 people died from malaria that year, with children under the age of 5 accounting for 67% of deaths. The majority of cases were in Africa, per the WHO.
Children under 5 are the most vulnerable to malaria, accounting for 67% of deaths.
“The response to the pandemic has shown that science and innovation can transform people's lives when all key stakeholders work together towards a common goal. We are committed to bringing our innovations to those who need them most,” Dr. Sahin wrote in a press release. “We are more than grateful to be part of the joint efforts of the Eradicate Malaria project."
"Together with our partners, 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," Dr. Sahin continued. "Our efforts will include cutting-edge research and innovation, significant investments in vaccine development, the establishment of manufacturing facilities, and the transfer of manufacturing expertise to production sites on the African continent and wherever else it is needed.”
Dr. Sahin said early-stage development and testing of vaccines normally costs about $30-80 million, but noted that this project, a collaboration between the World Health Organization, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, “has no budget limits at the moment."
The U.S. has administered 190 million doses of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine as of July 25, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than the other two authorized vaccines – from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson – combined. More than 86 million people have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, per the CDC.
BioNTech has previously said it is working on a vaccine candidate for tuberculosis, with clinical trials aimed for 2022, and therapies for several forms of cancer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.