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Progress with Sanaria’s Plasmodium falciparum sporozoite vaccines

March 17, 2017 - 14:13 -- Ingeborg van Schayk

In 2011, the first clinical trial assessing Sanaria® PfSPZ Vaccine (radiation attenuated, aseptic, purified, cryopreserved Plasmodium falciparum (Pf) sporozoites (SPZ)) [1] demonstrated that when PfSPZ Vaccine was injected subcutaneously (SC) or intradermally (ID), it was safe and well tolerated, but induced minimal immune responses and minimal protection against controlled human malaria infection (CHMI). We had hoped to induce highly reactive PfSPZ-specific, interferon gamma (IFN-g)-producing CD8+ T cells, which would kill the parasites during their development in the liver.  However, there was no evidence of these responses in the study subjects.

This same lack of response was seen in non-human primates given PfSPZ Vaccine SC, not only in the periphery, but also in the livers, which were examined after immunization.  However, when the same dose of PfSPZ Vaccine was administered by direct venous inoculation (DVI), results improved dramatically: 3% of liver-resident CD8+ T cells in non-human primates were specific for PfSPZ and produced IFN-g.  These data demonstrated that PfSPZ Vaccine was indeed immunogenic provided the PfSPZ could be administered directly into the bloodstream and reach the liver.

Based on these findings, PfSPZ Vaccine was then administered IV to humans, protecting 6/6 (100%) subjects against CHMI [2]. This startling improvement confirmed the importance of the route of administration.  This was the first time >90% protection had ever been demonstrated in a malaria vaccine trial.

Since then, Sanaria and partners from the International PfSPZ Consortium (I-PfSPZ-C) [3], have systematically assessed how to further optimize the vaccine dose and regimen in order to consistently confer high-level, durable protection against both homologous (same Pf strain as the vaccine) and heterologous (different Pf strain to vaccine) CHMI, as well as against naturally transmitted malaria in field studies, where the parasites are extremely heterogeneous.  Long-term protection (at least 6 months) is critical, if the vaccine is to become a tool in the malaria elimination armory, so our trials have focused on this (or even longer) intervals.  Protection for at least 14 months was shown in 2016 against homologous CHMI [4]. Now, in January-February 2017, four more papers have expanded our knowledge of the protective efficacy and safety of PfSPZ Vaccine [5-7] and of the similar vaccine approach PfSPZ-CVac, where infectious PfSPZ are administered to volunteers taking an antimalarial drug) [8]. 

The first three publications focused on the question of heterologous protection and reduced numbers of doses. PfSPZ Vaccine is composed of PfSPZ from the NF54 strain of Pf, which is thought to have originated in West Africa.  Epstein et al. [5] and Lyke et al. [6] showed that PfSPZ Vaccine can protect volunteers against CHMI by the heterologous Pf7G8 (originating from Brazil) and that this protection could extend for at least 33 weeks after vaccination (long-term).  They also showed that 3 dose regimens could be effective. The third publication describes a trial conducted in a natural endemic setting in Mali, where the immunized study subjects were challenged in nature by mosquito bites transmitting genetically heterogeneous parasites for 24 weeks after the last dose of vaccine.  The clinical trial led by Sissoko and Healy [7] demonstrated 52% protection by time to event analysis and 29% by proportional analysis despite using a vaccine dosage regimen now known to be sub-optimal.  This was done in a high Pf transmission area, where 93% of normal saline control volunteers became infected during the 24 weeks of follow-up. Together these publications show that PfSPZ Vaccine has the capacity to provide long-term protection as well as protection against diverse parasite strains. More work is needed to achieve the consistent high-level, durable protection required for a traveler’s vaccine and for a vaccine for malaria elimination.

The fourth paper by Mordmüller et al. [8] tested the PfSPZ-CVac approach (PfSPZ Chemoprophylaxis Vaccine) [9], administering infectious PfSPZ (Sanaria® PfSPZ Challenge) [10-14] to volunteers taking the antimalarial drug chloroquine.  At approximately 10% of the dose used for PfSPZ Vaccine, 9/9 volunteers (100%) were protected again homologous CHMI at 10 weeks (moderate term) after the last dose of vaccine, and a vaccine regimen administered in just 10 days total was shown to be 63% protective at 10 weeks.  Protection against heterologous (CHMI) and heterogeneous Pf (field exposure), durability of protection and improved shortened dosage regimens are now being investigated.

Here, the lead authors of these papers explain their results:

From left to right: Judy Epstein; Kirsten Lyke; Mahamadou Sissoko; Sara Healy; Benjamin Mordmüller; Peter Billingsley

Judy Epstein

What are the major findings of your paper in JCI Insight? This was the first demonstration that PfSPZ Vaccine could protect against a strain of Pf that was different from the one used to make the vaccine.  The results are really encouraging even though the CHMI was done on a limited group of malaria-naive adult subjects. We obtained similar protection against both short-term (3 week) and long-term (24 weeks) CHMI with both 3- and 5-dose regimens against homologous CHMI.

Briefly describe the experimental design. The trial assessed tolerability, safety, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy of PfSPZ Vaccine administered by direct venous inoculation (DVI). Volunteers were given a total dosage of 13.5 x 105 PfSPZ in either 5 (2.7 × 105 PfSPZ/dose) or 3 (4.5 × 105 PfSPZ/dose) doses. Protection was assessed by the bite of five mosquitoes infected with sporozoites of homologous (PfNF54) or heterologous (Pf7G8) parasites at either 3 or 24 weeks after the last vaccination, then examining blood for the presence of parasites.

What are the implications of the results in terms of malaria vaccine development? These results provide a foundation for developing an optimized immunization regimen for preventing malaria. They take us an important step closer to having a PfSPZ Vaccine regimen that will suitable for travelers, including military, diplomats, aid workers, tourists  and people posted to malaria endemic areas for work purposes. Theoretically, the same regimen could be used in vulnerable populations in endemic areas.

What are your next steps? We are currently assessing higher doses of the vaccine against long-term heterologous CHMI. The long-term goal here is to have a vaccine that provides durable protection against any Pf strain. 
Kirsten Lyke

What are the major findings of your paper in PNAS? After CHMI with homologous Pf parasites 19 weeks after final immunization, nine of 14 vaccinated volunteers (64%) were non parasitemic compared with none of the six non-vaccinated controls. Of the nine protected subjects, six were subjected to a second CHMI by mosquito bite with Pf7G8 at 33 weeks after the final immunization. Five (83%) of six remained protected while all six non-vaccinated controls were infected after CHMI.  PfSPZ-specific T-cell and antibody responses were detected in all vaccine recipients. PfSPZ- specific T cell responses were highest in blood after the 1st immunization and not boosted in blood thereafter.

Briefly describe the experimental design. After establishing dose-dependent, durable protective efficacy against homologous CHMI in a prior study, we continued PfSPZ Vaccine dose escalation to a three-dose regimen of 9.0 × 105 PfSPZ per dose at 8 week intervals. Protection was assessed by CHMI with five mosquitoes infected with PfSPZ of PfNF54 or Pf7G8 strains at 19 or 33 weeks after the last vaccination, then examining blood for the presence of parasites.

What are the implications of the results in terms of malaria vaccine development?  A three-dose regimen of a live attenuated whole-parasite PfSPZ Vaccine conferred durable sterile protection through 33 weeks in ∼50% of subjects against a CHMI with a heterologous strain to that in the vaccine. The immune response generated to the vaccine recognized both the homologous and the heterologous Pf strain.

What are your next steps? On the basis of the favorable safety profile of the doses tested to date and the immune data reported, additional changes to the vaccine regimen using different doses, intervals and number of immunizations will be tested to determine whether even higher protective efficacy can be achieved, which will be preferable for travelers and for mass vaccination strategies aimed at interrupting transmission in endemic regions.
Mahamadou Sissoko and Sara Healy

What are the major findings of your paper in Lancet Infectious Diseases? PfSPZ Vaccine administered by direct venous inoculation (DVI) was safe and well tolerated. This was the first trial which evaluated the efficacy of a whole malaria sporozoite vaccine in a malaria endemic area. PfSPZ Vaccine provided protective efficacy for at least 6 months against natural infections of malaria in an endemic area where over 90% of the controls became infected.

Briefly describe the experimental design. After an open-label dose-escalation study in a pilot safety cohort, we did a double-blind, randomized, placebo controlled clinical trial. Participants were randomly assigned (1:1) in a double-blind manner, with stratification by village and block randomization, to receive either five doses of 2·7 × 10⁵ PfSPZ or of normal saline at days 0, 28, 56, 84, and 140 during the dry season. Participants received artemether and lumefantrine (Coartem) to eliminate malaria parasites before the first and last vaccinations. We collected blood smears every 2 weeks and during any illness for 24 weeks after the fifth vaccination.

What are the implications of the results in terms of malaria vaccine development? This trial justifies our continued development of PfSPZ Vaccine to validate a 3 doses regimen and to immunize individuals who are highly exposed to malaria. The work furthers our efforts to understand the mechanism of protection by PfSPZ Vaccine, especially considering the difference between antibody responses to PfCSP and efficacy in the USA and in Mali.

What are your next steps? We plan to conduct further studies to refine the protective dose regimen and immunize children and pregnant women who are at the highest risk of malaria in endemic areas.
Benjamin Mordmüller

What are the major findings of your paper in Nature? Protection against CHMI following PfSPZ-CVac is strictly dose-dependent between the infective doses of 3,200 PfSPZ and 51,200 PfSPZ. The highest tested dose was well tolerated and fully protected against CHMI. Shortening time for administration of the full dosage regimen down to 5 days led to high-grade protection, although full protection was not achieved.

Briefly describe the experimental design. Two-stage, placebo-controlled, double-blind trials of PfSPZ-CVac in healthy, malaria-naïve volunteers with CHMI by DVI of homologous PfSPZ as measure of efficacy. Dose escalation (1st Stage) of three dose regimens (three injections of 3.2 x103, 1.28 x 104, 5.12 x 104, respectively) at 4-week intervals, followed by assessment of accelerated schedules of 14-day and 5-day intervals (2nd Stage).

What are the implications of the results in terms of malaria vaccine development? The study shows that PfSPZ-CVac is a feasible approach to immunization, and much more potent on a PfSPZ basis than PfSPZ Vaccine. It is currently being further developed for use in endemic areas and travelers.

What are your next steps? We are currently assessing alternative antimalarial agents for chemoprophylaxis which would allow simplified regimens, and testing increased doses of PfSPZ and studying protection against heterologous CHMI.  Later this year we will start a randomized controlled trial in African children with PfSPZ-CVac and PfSPZ Vaccine under natural exposure.


  1. Epstein JE et al. Live attenuated malaria vaccine designed to protect through hepatic CD8+ T cell immunity. Science 2011 334:475-80
  2. Seder RA, et al. Protection against malaria by intravenous immunization with a nonreplicating sporozoite vaccine. Science 2013 341:1359-65
  3. Richie et al. Progress with Plasmodium falciparum sporozoite (PfSPZ)-based malaria vaccines. Vaccine 2015 33:7452-61
  4. Ishizuka A et al. Protection against malaria at 1 year and immune correlates following PfSPZ vaccination. Nature Medicine 2016 22:614-23
  5. Epstein JE et al. Protection against Plasmodium falciparum malaria by PfSPZ Vaccine. JCI Insight 2017 2:e89154. doi:10.1172/jci.insight.89154
  6. Lyke K et al. PfSPZ vaccine induces strain-transcending T cells and durable protection against heterologous controlled human malaria infection. PNAS 2017 doi: 10.1073/pnas.1615324114
  7. Sissoko MS, Healy SA, et al. Safety and efficacy of PfSPZ Vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum via direct venous inoculation in healthy malaria-exposed Malian adults: a randomised, double-blind trial. Lancet Infectious Diseases 2017 doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(17)30104-4
  8. Mordmüller B et al. Sterile protection against human malaria by chemoattenuated PfSPZ vaccine. Nature 2017 542:445–449
  9. Bastiaens GJ et al. Safety, immunogenicity, and protective efficacy of intradermal immunization with aseptic, purified, cryopreserved Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites in volunteers under chloroquine prophylaxis: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Trop Med Hyg 2016 94:663-73 
  10. Roestenberg M et al. Controlled Human Malaria Infections by Intradermal Injection of Cryopreserved Plasmodium falciparum Sporozoites. Am J Trop Med Hyg 2013  88:5-13
  11. Gómez-Pérez GP et al. Controlled human malaria infection by intramuscular and direct venous inoculation of cryopreserved Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites in malaria-naïve volunteers: effect of injection volume and dose on infectivity rates. Malaria Journal 2015 14:306
  12. Mordmüller B et al. Direct venous inoculation of Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites for controlled human malaria infection: a dose-finding trial in two centres.  Malaria Journal 2015 14:117
  13. Shekalaghe S et al.  Controlled human malaria infection of Tanzanians by intradermal injection of aseptic, purified, cryopreserved Plasmodium falciparum sporozoites.  Am J Trop Med Hyg 2014 91:471–480
  14. Hodgson SH et al.  Evaluating controlled human malaria infection in Kenyan adults with varying degrees of prior exposure to Plasmodium falciparum using sporozoites administered by intramuscular injection. Frontiers in Microbiology 2014 5:686

By Dr. Peter F. Billingsley, Vice President International Projects and Strategy, Sanaria Inc., 9800 Medical Center Drive, Rockville, MD 20850, USA.

To find out more about these results you can contact Sanaria at


Submitted by Peter Okechukwu on

I am glad the way the commitments of these great scientists are coming up to something great. My kudos to all! May I use this opportunity to challenge other researchers to be more visionary in their approach so as to impact more lives through their findings.

Submitted by Pete Billingsley (not verified) on

Thank you. We rely so heavily on the support and commitment of others to make progress. This broad support is exemplified here - with research partners from all over the globe contributing to our continued understanding of how the PfSPZ vaccines work.

Submitted by Bernhards Ogutu (not verified) on

The progress of whole sporozoite vaccine challenges traditional ways of vaccine development and administration. This testifies that developing antiparasitic vaccines may need new innovative ways and patience is needed to fully come up with what will ultimately work well.

Submitted by Pete Billingsley (not verified) on

Ahsante sana Ogutu. I cannot but agree with you. It is sometimes difficult for people outside a field to understand just how much patience is required, but at the same time we are all impatient to have a good, highly protective vaccine ready for people to use.

Submitted by modou d (not verified) on

This is the second malaria vaccine in one month: Sanaria from Maryland and GlycoGriffith from Queensland.
And probably number 10 in 20 years.
I hope it doesn't again raise unproven expectations and that large scale human double blind, randomized (compared with Artavol for example) will confirm this media hype. Otherwise the words of Mark Twain would apply
"We hear them prate and drivel and lie"

Submitted by Pete Billingsley (not verified) on

The number of 'vaccines' that are announced in the press reflect not drivel and lies, but the honest and sustained efforts of many malaria researchers across the world. Each vaccine candidate will eventually live or die by the data generated in double blind clinical trials, not against an alternative product but against a placebo or the best licensed vaccine (which for malaria does not yet exist). We all enter these trials in the hope and expectation that our candidate will make a difference, that it will succeed in become a vaccine and the missing new tool needed to combat this disease. Of course, some of these will fail - mainly because malaria is SUCH a difficult parasite to control.

Submitted by modou d (not verified) on

An interesting point of view published in Natural News (excerpts)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017 by: Tracey Watson

Toxic malaria vaccine to be tested in Africa, even after Health Ranger reports on a botanical alternative with an astounding 100% cure rate
Though malaria is a virtually unknown disease to many in the U.S., it is a global menace that affects upwards of 212 million people annually, killing close to half a million in any given year. In the past, the medical approach to the treatment of malaria has been to prescribe a type of drug called Artemisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs). However, on the eve of World Malaria Day – which falls on the 25th of April each year – the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it will be starting to test a new anti-malaria vaccine in the fields of Kenya, Ghana and Malawi, beginning in 2018. Though scientists involved with the development of the vaccine have called this “great news,” insisting it will “make a real difference,” is this vaccine really necessary, and will it live up to the hype? ………..
One wonders, therefore, why there is so much interest in developing an anti-malaria vaccine now, when the battle is clearly already being won. Very disturbing, too, is the fact that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has been actively involved in the development of this vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S.
Granted, there has been a marked increase in the number of drug-resistant malaria cases worldwide, but that doesn’t mean a preventative vaccine is the best solution. Even if it doesn’t kill you – and who knows, when the BMGF is involved – vaccines have side effects and are not 100 percent effective. And there is a naturally available treatment that has been successfully used to treat malaria in traditional Amazonian, Chinese and African medicine for centuries, that doesn’t have side effects, can be grown anywhere and can even treat drug-resistant malaria: The Artemisia annua plant, commonly known as sweet wormwood or sweet annie.
The Health Ranger recently reported on a study published in the journal Phytomedicine, which describes how the Artemisia annua plant saved 18 patients in the Congo who were suffering from drug-resistant malaria that was totally unresponsive to any western medical treatment. When the patients failed to respond to ACTs, doctors tried the dried leaves of the Artemisia annua plant in a final bid to save their patients’ lives. After only five days of treatment, all 18 patients were 100 percent recovered, and blood tests revealed absolutely no remaining parasites in their blood.
If a naturally occurring, freely available plant medicine is available to treat drug-resistant strains of malaria, and other preventative measures have already turned the tide in the fight against this disease, any thinking person has to wonder why the BMGF, the WHO and others are suddenly pushing for the release of this new vaccine.

William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

The proponents of this new sporozoite vaccine loosely refer to its long term impact, but that is deceptive. Immunization against Yellow Fever gives protection for at least 10 years, and in almost 100% of cases. That is a long-term vaccine. This new vaccine is thus still in the early stages, and should be viewed skeptically, without accepting the hype of the manufacturer.

William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates

Submitted by Pete Billingsley (not verified) on

William, while there is no 'loose reference' here, you are correct. Compared to the Yellow Fever vaccine, 2 years is not a long time but a) it is longer than has been observed with any other malaria vaccine, b) it is protection against infection (not just disease), and c) it may well be enough to interrupt transmission for a period of time long enough to make a difference. Indications from the literature are that 2 years of a continued break in transmission is more than sufficient to eliminate Plasmodium falciparum from a focal area. This is not hype but clear reporting of the data. While we are happy with the progress, we are far from complacent. Like you, we recognize that there is much more work needed before we have a vaccine that can prevent malaria in individuals for a period of time that will, with sufficient coverage, be the cornerstone of elimination campaigns.

Submitted by Pierre Lutgen on

(Jason Gale) Malaria is like flu, with thousands of strains, study shows
Strain theory suggests shots must be 100% efficacious to work
Groundbreaking research has shown the potentially deadly malaria parasite has greater genetic diversity than scientists previously understood, a finding that throws doubt on the efficacy of vaccines in development by companies such GlaxoSmithKline Plc.
A study involving more than 600 children from a single village in the West African nation of Gabon found that each had malaria caused by a different strain of the Plasmodium parasite -- or a different composite of as many as 60 genes.
The results suggest that scientists need to rethink their approach to malaria vaccines, since full immunity against all strains is needed to halt the disease. The global malaria vaccines market will exceed $591.8 million by 2024, Coherent Market Insights said in a report last month. The field, led by London-based Glaxo, has been supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for more than a decade.
“It’s turning the theory of malaria control on its head -- that’s the important implication,” said Karen Day, who was the first author on the paper,
Day’s research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and involved scientists from the University of Melbourne, the University of Chicago and teams from the Netherlands and France.
More than 20 other vaccine constructs are being evaluated in clinical trials or are in advanced preclinical development, the Geneva-based WHO said.
Other companies involved in malaria vaccines include Sanaria Inc., Nobelpharma Co., Sumaya Biotech, and GenVec Inc., according to Coherent Market Insights.

Karen P. Day et al. Evidence of strain structure in gene repertoires in children from Gabon, West Africa, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1613018114