The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), the US-based global development programme set up in 1999 with initial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has announced a new collaboration with Seattle Biomedical Research Institute (SBRI) that could hasten the clinical assessment of malaria vaccine candidates.

Under an umbrella collaboration agreement signed by MVI and SBRI late last year, a Human Challenge Center devoted to testing the safety and efficacy of malaria vaccine candidates in humans will be built this year at the Seattle institute. MVI will provide technical and financial support for the project.

According to the partners, the Human Challenge Center will be “one of only a handful of facilities of its kind worldwide” and will help meet the growing demand to test new interventions against the malaria parasite. It will also provide “the critical foundation” for the Malaria Clinical Trials Center, which will eventually integrate basic science and clinical research in an effort to find new solutions for the global burden of malaria.

In addition to its well-established malaria research programme, the partners note, SBRI already has one key component of the Malaria Clinical Trials Center in place: its Center for Mosquito Production and Malaria Infection Research (CeMPMIR), which includes an insectary to produce the mosquitos needed for human challenge trials.

This phase comes after a malaria vaccine candidate has been tested for safety in a small number of healthy adult volunteers – typically, with candidates targeting the early stage of malaria infection. Immunised volunteers are deliberately exposed to infected mosquitos to assess whether the vaccine can prevent or delay malaria infection.

“We see an opportunity here to provide the entire malaria vaccine research community with additional capacity for testing the many exciting approaches to fighting this disease that are being developed not just at SBRI, but by scientists around the world,” commented the Institute’s president and founder, Dr Ken Stuart. “Our role is to help the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative continue to stock the malaria vaccine pipeline with a large cadre of strong candidates backed by hard evidence of their potential effectiveness.”

The goal is to optimise the use of human challenge testing for individual vaccine formulations that seek to block the Plasmodium falciparum parasite at different stages in its journey through the human body. Testing will involve vaccine candidates designed to elicit an immune response against the parasite’s pre-erythrocytic stage (the earliest stage of malaria infection in humans) and those focused on the destructive blood stage of infection.