Monoclonal antibody prevents malaria infection in African adults: Antibody protected clinical trial participants during six-month malaria season

One dose of an antibody drug safely protected healthy, non-pregnant adults from malaria infection during an intense six-month malaria season in Mali, Africa, a National Institutes of Health clinical trial has found. The antibody was up to 88.2% effective at preventing infection over a 24-week period, demonstrating for the first time that a monoclonal antibody can prevent malaria infection in an endemic region. These findings were published today in The New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene 2022 Annual Meeting in Seattle.

“We need to expand the arsenal of available interventions to prevent malaria infection and accelerate efforts to eliminate the disease,” said Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH. “These study results suggest that a monoclonal antibody could potentially complement other measures to protect travelers and vulnerable groups such as infants, children, and pregnant women from seasonal malaria and help eliminate malaria from defined geographical areas.”

NIAID sponsored and funded the trial, which was led by Peter D. Crompton, M.D., M.P.H., and Kassoum Kayentao, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D. Dr. Crompton is chief of the Malaria Infection Biology and Immunity Section in the NIAID Laboratory of Immunogenetics, and Dr. Kayentao is a professor at the University of Sciences, Techniques and Technologies (USTTB) of Bamako, Mali.

An estimated 241 million cases of malaria occurred worldwide in 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), resulting in an estimated 627,000 deaths, mostly in children in sub-Saharan Africa. These cases included more than 11 million pregnant women in Africa, resulting in an estimated 819,000 newborns with low birthweight and thus at increased risk for illness and death.

The only malaria vaccine currently recommended by WHO, called RTS,S (Mosquirix), provides partial protection against clinical malaria during the early years of life when given to children aged 5 to 17 months in four doses over a 20-month period. Other drugs consisting of small chemical compounds that effectively prevent malaria infection are also available for infants and young children as well as travelers. The requirement for frequent dosing of these drugs can limit adherence, however, and the emergence of drug resistance may also limit their usefulness. Thus, there is an urgent need for new, fast-acting, infrequently dosed interventions that safely provide strong protection against malaria infection.

Malaria is caused by Plasmodium parasites, which are transmitted to people through the bite of an infected mosquito. The mosquito injects the parasites in a form called sporozoites into the skin and bloodstream. These travel to the liver, where they mature and multiply. Then the mature parasite spreads throughout the body via the bloodstream to cause illness. P. falciparum is the Plasmodium species most likely to result in severe malaria infections, which, if not promptly treated, may lead to death.

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