AITHM James Cook University

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Annual Report

Malaria remains a major public health threat throughout the Tropics, with significant mortality, morbidity and socioeconomic impact despite extensive worldwide efforts dedicated to the development of an effective intervention. AITHM is a leading malarial research group in Australia and a significant global player in malarial research.

At the AITHM laboratories in Cairns and Townsville, researchers are tackling the complex challenges posed by the disease, including the mosquitoes that transmit it and the five species of parasite that can infect humans. AITHM is also currently working on three vaccines at various stages: fundamental proof-of-concept, pre-clinical development and clinical trial testing.

Development phase vaccine

Led by Professor Denise Doolan and funded by an NHMRC project grant, a research group is using a range of genome-based technology platforms with specimens from individuals naturally or experimentally exposed to malaria to understand the immune mechanisms and antigenic targets of protective immunity to malaria, in order to rationally design and develop effective vaccines and therapeutics.  A particular focus in on the molecular profiling of adaptive immunity to Plasmodium infection in humans and animals using systems immunology, which links immunology with genomics and bioinformatics. 

The approaches being pursued in the Doolan lab should overcome the problem of poorly immunogenic, poorly protective vaccines that has plagued vaccine developers for many years.

“Focusing on the molecular building blocks that make up the malaria parasite and the human immune response, will enable us to find weaknesses in the host-parasite arsenal that will lead to effective control of malaria.”

Professor Denise Doolan 

Pre-clinical development of a pan-species, multi-stage vaccine for the malaria eradication agenda

AITHM has also developed a prototype vaccine that may overcome the complex challenges posed by the disease by attacking most species and stages in the malaria life cycle. 

With funding of $2.8M from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $1.06M from the Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation Grants Programme (Department of Industry), and $850K from an NHMRC Development Grant, Professor Louis Schofield’s research team, in collaboration with the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne and collaborators and Institutions around the world, is developing the manufacturing process required to take the vaccine to clinical trials. The next critical stage for this investigation will enable the project to move into a formal regulatory testing and manufacturing process with an end goal of a usable, functioning vaccine.

Clinical trial vaccine

AITHM’s third malaria vaccine candidate, a research project also led by Professor Louis Schofield, is currently undergoing clinical trials in Queensland.

In collaboration with Professor James McCarthy from QIMR Berghofer, clinical trials are underway with results expected early 2017. The vaccine is a genetically attenuated live blood-stage malaria vaccine in which pathogen virulence factors have been ablated.