By SOLA OGUNDIPE & CHIOMA OBINNA
NIGERIAN medical professionals have applauded the early-stage clinical evaluation of an investigational malaria vaccine known as the PfSPZ Vaccine, conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIAID, part of the National Institutes of Health.
In a report published last week in Science – a scientific journal, announcing the phase 1 trial of the vaccine, researchers observed that from preliminary studies, the vaccine had been found to be safe, to generate an immune system response, and to offer protection against malaria infection in healthy adults.
An additional tool
Reacting to the development, National Coordinator, National Malaria Control Programme, NMCP, Dr Nnenna Ezeigwe, described it as a welcome development.
“The news is welcome as are other vaccine projects that are going on at various stages of trial. The process for this one is just starting and if it is to be pursued, will take 8-10 years for it to come to be.
“The first in line and closest at hand known as RTS,S is at the final stage of testing and if everything goes right, that one should be able to come into use in 2015. That one is undergoing the last stage of trial which is the phase 3. Nigeria is one of the countries where the final stages of the trial are being carried out. The centres are in Jos and Enugu.”
She said:”If the results of the trial for RTS,S continue to show green light, if things continue the way we are expecting, by 2015, that vaccine should be recommended for use by the World Health Organization, WHO.
“The new product that we are talking about has simply shown some promise worth exploring further and would take a long time to come into fruition if all continue to go well. However when this or other vaccine comes into effect, we are going to use it in addition to what we are already doing in malaria control.
Further, she said: “This is just the beginning for the new product as far as the process for a vaccine is concerned. If at the third stage it is proven to be 100 percent protective, other issues may have to be considered such as costs and other things. Based on several considerations a decision has to be made whether we can use the vaccine or stick to other measures. But the important thing is that we have an additional tool to our arsenal.
“We would not stop doing what we are doing currently to prevent malaria, including use of long lasting insecticide treated bed nets, prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, intermittent prevention in pregnant women, environmental and other measures.
“That is the message to take from this. Everyone is excited, I am excited too because there are already 20 vaccines in line, including this one. If the ones we think would be successful prove not to be so, we would be hopeful that the others might be okay, knowing that we have others to assess. It is something to be happy about, I am happy about it but it does not mean we should go to sleep.
Invest in indigenous vaccines
Applauding the feat with a commendation of the team of researchers from the NIAID, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Dr. Osahon Enebulele, called for more research into development of indigenous vaccines.
“We strongly call on Nigerian governments at all levels, to invest more in the search for an indigenous malaria vaccine in Nigeria that can protect against other strains of the malaria parasite, besides Plasmodium falciparum.
“We also urge scientists and researchers in Africa, and Nigeria in particular to advance the study by replicating it in the various scientific research institutes in Nigeria.”
Enebulele, who is also Vice President of the Commonwealth Medical Association, observed that the NMA is particularly excited by the outcome of the Phase 1 clinical trial on account of the fact that it offers great hope to the African region where malaria is pre-eminently endemic.
“As we await the outcome of further clinical trials of the vaccine candidate, the NMA strongly advises great caution in the interpretation of the research finding as more field studies using a larger number of study subjects need to be conducted in order to validate the effectiveness of the vaccine and the duration of the malaria protective period.
“Similarly, we advise that other on-going research efforts to develop other vaccine candidates (about 20 vaccine candidates at various clinical trial stages) should be stepped up.