Test malaria vaccines on larger groups of volunteers

Sauerwein Robert

To find an effective vaccine against malaria it is crucial to test candidate vaccines on much larger groups of people than was previously thought. This has been shown by research conducted by Radboud university medical center and Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. The researchers developed a mathematical model to determine the minimum number of people required for a good study. They published their findings in the leading scientific journal PLoS Computational Biology. Malaria kills 438,000 people every year and is the leading cause of death in children worldwide>

Before a malaria vaccine may be tested on a large group of people, there must be sufficient evidence for a relevant and beneficial effect, with minimal risks and side effects. Few candidate vaccines meet these requirements. Over the past ten years, only 40 of the many candidate vaccines were actually clinically tested on humans. Only one vaccine (RTS,S vaccine) appears to be promising, which means that children are 45.7 percent protected from malaria for 18 months after vaccination. “By vaccinating a larger group of people in clinical studies with a candidate vaccine in the early testing phase, we increase the likelihood of finding a greater number of promising vaccines, and therefore also accelerate the discovery of an effective vaccine against this disease”, says Luc Coffeng, researcher at Erasmus MC’s department of Public Health.

One of the first steps is testing candidate vaccines on humans occurs in CHMI (controlled human malaria infection) studies. In these studies, healthy volunteers are infected with malaria in a highly controlled environment to evaluate the possible protective efficacy of the candidate vaccine. “It is important that enough volunteers participate so as to be able to draw accurate conclusions. On the other hand, we want to keep the groups as small as possible to avoid unnecessarily exposing people to malaria”, says Robert Sauerwein, Professor of Medical Parasitology, theme Infectious diseases and global health. The researchers think that the search for an effective vaccine can be accelerated if the group of clinical trial volunteers participating in CHMI studies is enlarged. They have developed a mathematical model to determine the ideal size of the group of volunteers. Coffeng: “We hope that this model will contribute to more effective studies and ultimately to eradicating malaria.”


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