On July 26, 2021, the Germany-based pharmaceutical company known as BioNTech had announced that it would try using the same mRNA technology behind the COVID-19 vaccine to create a vaccine against malaria. BioNTech is the company that had partnered with the US-based company Pfizer to develop one of the most widely approved COVID-19 vaccines. With their frontline experience in developing the mRNA technology, now BioNTech wishes to expand and create a vaccine solution against another disease that still continues to plague other parts of the world.
What is Malaria?
Notoriously known as a mosquito-borne disease that has caused much suffering in the African continent, malaria can actually exist anywhere in the world where mosquitos may thrive. In 2019 alone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were roughly 229 million cases of malaria across the globe. Of those cases, around 400,000 die from malaria, many of them being young children. Malaria is caused when a female mosquito bites a person—in the process, malaria-causing parasites get mixed with the mosquito’s saliva and get introduced into the person’s body.
Malaria can cause a variety of symptoms when contracted:
- Muscle Aches
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Other Flu-Like Symptoms
- Kidney Failure
Typically, it can take anywhere from 10 days to as long as 4 weeks before symptoms begin to show. However, it can take as long as 1 year for symptoms to appear. Early symptoms usually resemble the more flu-like symptoms such as headaches, sweats and chills, muscle aches, nausea, and fever. But it should be taken very seriously as it can become very life-threatening.
How Can Malaria Be Cured?
There are a variety of anti-malaria drugs out there that are meant to be taken early so that they can tackle the disease and put a stop to it before greater damage is done. These drugs are prescription-only, so if you live in an area that has a lot of mosquitos and you begin exhibiting symptoms, be sure to speak to a doctor promptly and begin treatment. These drugs work by clearing your body of the malaria parasites, providing the help you need to help prevent another rise of symptoms. These parasites can live in your body for years, or even decades, and can reactivate at any time causing what’s known as “malaria attacks”. Taking doctor-recommended anti-malaria drugs will help put a stop to this suffering.
There have been attempts to eradicate malaria from the world since the 1950s but have otherwise borne no fruit. Much of the fault of these campaigns have been the lack of involvement of the African continent, which is where much of the cases are occurring—without a proper and comprehensive effort that covers all regions, especially those most hard hit, malaria’s eradication can seem far away.
Progress on a Vaccine
While BioNTech is planning to start trials by the end of 2022, it should be noted that there is already a vaccine that is being tested in three countries in Africa made by GlaxoSmithKline. However, those trials have shown that it is going to be a challenge to maintain the antibodies required to remain efficient. Furthermore, the malaria parasite has been known to develop new variants, which can provide an extra challenge to existing vaccine concepts. This is why BioNTech believes that their mRNA technology could create a better vaccine that may be more effective, if the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is anything to go by. BioNTech is also seeking to make a production facility in Africa for their mRNA vaccines—which can make a future malaria vaccine easy to access for the communities most hard hit by malaria. The hope is that the mRNA technology can eventually be used to create a whole variety of effective vaccines.
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