In support of a bold quest to rid the world entirely of malaria, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Sunday announced an award of US$156 million to PATH to support the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) in building new vaccines that will interrupt the cycle of malaria parasite transmission and help realize the “accelerating to zero” agenda. Such vaccines would ensure that parasite reintroduction is prevented by providing what could be called an “immunological bed net.”

Anopheles gambiae mosquito Image/CDC
Anopheles gambiae mosquito

This approach to developing malaria vaccines goes beyond preventing malaria illness to preventing infection and transmission of the parasite. People living in regions affected by malaria often develop natural immunity, and while they may not show symptoms of malaria following subsequent infections, they often harbor parasites and transmit them to mosquitoes, which in turn infect other people. To accelerate future elimination and eradication efforts, vaccines are needed that induce immunity to prevent humans from becoming infected and to shrink the human parasite reservoir. MVI’s two-pronged strategy is to develop vaccines that prevent people from becoming infected after being bitten by infected mosquitoes (anti-infection vaccines, or AIVs) and that prevent mosquitoes from becoming infected, even after feeding on an infected person (transmission-blocking vaccines, or TBVs). Vaccines that combine these two attributes will be of particular focus.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s award to MVI is part of a more than $500 million commitment to tackling infectious diseases that the foundation announced at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene’s annual meeting. Bill Gates, Co-chair of the foundation, announced the additional funding during his keynote presentation, in which he urged greater investment in scientific innovation to ensure the world stays ahead of rapidly evolving disease threats. Gates also described a detailed vision for how to achieve malaria eradication before the middle of the 21st century—a goal he said is “both a necessary objective and an attainable one” given significant recent progress against the disease worldwide. To support this accelerated effort, Gates announced that the foundation is increasing its malaria program budget by 30 percent to more than $200 million per year. This is in addition to the foundation’s contributions to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

“We must remain committed to the eradication of malaria,” Gates said. “Small steps won’t get the job done. History shows that the only way to stop malaria is to end it forever.”  He emphasized, however, that long-range efforts to achieve eradication must not distract donors and endemic countries from the immediate objective of “saving lives now.”

“This new grant for the MVI program will help ensure that PATH can continue its effort to implement an organization-wide strategy aimed at supporting control, then elimination, and ultimately eradication of malaria,” said Steve Davis, PATH’s president and CEO. “We think that malaria vaccines are key to success against malaria and I am deeply appreciative of the Gates Foundation’s confidence in our ability to make a contribution in this area.”

Read the complete PATH press release HERE