An Open-Label Phase 1/2a Trial of a Genetically Modified Rodent Malaria Parasite for Immunization Against Plasmodium falciparum Malaria

Sci Transl Med. 2020 May 20;12(544):eaay2578. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aay2578.

Abstract

For some diseases, successful vaccines have been developed using a nonpathogenic counterpart of the causative microorganism of choice. The nonpathogenicity of the rodent Plasmodium berghei (Pb) parasite in humans prompted us to evaluate its potential as a platform for vaccination against human infection by Plasmodium falciparum (Pf), a causative agent of malaria. We hypothesized that the genetic insertion of a leading protein target for clinical development of a malaria vaccine, Pf circumsporozoite protein (CSP), in its natural pre-erythrocytic environment, would enhance Pb's capacity to induce protective immunity against Pf infection. Hence, we recently generated a transgenic Pb sporozoite immunization platform expressing PfCSP (PbVac), and we now report the clinical evaluation of its biological activity against controlled human malaria infection (CHMI). This first-in-human trial shows that PbVac is safe and well tolerated, when administered by a total of ~300 PbVac-infected mosquitoes per volunteer. Although protective efficacy evaluated by CHMI showed no sterile protection at the tested dose, significant delays in patency (2.2 days, P = 0.03) and decreased parasite density were observed after immunization, corresponding to an estimated 95% reduction in Pf liver parasite burden (confidence interval, 56 to 99%; P = 0.010). PbVac elicits dose-dependent cross-species cellular immune responses and functional PfCSP-dependent antibody responses that efficiently block Pf sporozoite invasion of liver cells in vitro. This study demonstrates that PbVac immunization elicits a marked biological effect, inhibiting a subsequent infection by the human Pf parasite, and establishes the clinical validation of a new paradigm in malaria vaccination.