BioNTech will seek to follow its successful Covid-19 vaccine with a shot to prevent malaria, both its first solo project and first new infectious-disease effort since the pandemic began.
The German biotech aims to start patient trials of a malaria shot by the end of next year. Backed by the World Health Organization, European Commission and the kENUP Foundation, the project will simultaneously seek to build out the infrastructure necessary to produce any successful malaria shot, as well as other messenger RNA vaccines, in Africa, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said.
“This is really about our goal to bring our vaccine to people who need it,” Sahin said in an interview. “We have the technology. We believe that we can help.”
Malaria kills some 400 000 people a year -- most of them young children in Africa -- and has been a notoriously tricky target for vaccine makers. After decades of work, the first shot to clear the WHO’s 75% target for efficacy came this year. Developed by scientists at the University of Oxford, it prevented 77% of cases in a 450-child study in Burkina Faso. A 4 800-child trial is planned to confirm the results.
Like the Covid vaccine BioNTech developed with Pfizer Inc., the malaria shot will use messenger RNA technology, making it possible to shorten the amount of time it takes to develop the shot. BioNTech plans to evaluate as many as 20 vaccine candidates and bring the most effective ones into clinical testing, Sahin said.