Promising malaria vaccine looks to employ robots to mass produce its product
Monday, June 2, 2014
Imagine that, in the face of substantial technical odds, you developed a vaccine for malaria that, in early trials, was 100 percent effective. But then, due to political wrangling over the budget, you couldn’t get the funding you needed to produce enough of the vaccine to market it. What would you do?
If you’re thinking has been influenced by the tech revolution, you would likely do two things: First, design a robot to help produce the vaccine, and, second, run a crowdfunding campaign to pay for it. That’s exactly what Sanaria, a biotechnology founded in 2003 by long-time malaria researcher Stephen Hoffman and based in a suburb of Washington, D.C., has done.
First, some background. Malaria infects about 200 million people every year and kills 600,000 of them. Vaccines have been notoriously ineffective against the disease, which stems from a parasitical infection.
Last year, Sanaria reported that in a Phase I clinical trial whose participants were consenting U.S. veterans, the vaccine administered at the higher of two doses kept all the patients who got it from becoming infected with malaria when bitten by mosquitos carrying Plasmodium falciparum, which causes 98 percent of all malaria deaths. This year, the company will conduct trials in the U.S., Mali, Tanzania, Equatorial Guinea and Germany.
To produce the vaccine, called PfSPZ, Sanaria cultivates mosquitos in a sterile environment and infects them with Plasmodium falciparum(the Pf in PfSPZ). When the mosquitos are chock-full of Pf sporozoites (hence the SPZ), the company irradiates them to weaken the parasites. Workers then herd up the mosquitos, chop off their heads and squeeze out their salivary glands, where the parasites prefer to live the better to port over to the mosquito’s next victim. They retrieve the weakened parasites from these tiny glands, filter out other contaminants and gather them up into an injectable vaccine.
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