Seattle BioMed receives grant to study malaria biomarkers

The independent, non-profit organization Seattle BioMed has been awarded an $8.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study and identify biomarkers to be used in malaria vaccine design. 

The biomarkers will allow for the vaccines to be designed based on robust predictors of protective immunity. The study will be Seattle BioMed’s first to include the integration of its recently announced approach to infectious disease research focused on systems biology. Ruobing Wang will lead the study.

"In order to bring the burden of malaria under control – with the ultimate goal of eradicating the pathogens that cause disease – we know we need a highly efficacious anti-infection vaccine," Wang said. "But, without reliable biomarkers of anti-infection immunity, the development and testing of malaria vaccines is a slow and expensive process."

Biomarkers will aid Seattle BioMed in the process of predicting and monitoring vaccine efficacy in clinical trials, allowing them to select optimal vaccine candidates for development.

"In this new study, we will use genetically attenuated parasite strains as probes to determine whether host correlates of immunity can be identified during vaccination in mice," Stefan Kappe of Seattle BioMed said. "These model vaccines provide an opportunity to discriminate biomarkers associated with complete, long-lasting protection from those associated with partial, short-lived or lack of protection."

By combining Seattle BioMed’s areas of expertise – successful vaccine and immunology studies in animal models of malaria, the ability to develop genetically attenuated parasite strains for human trial and the ability to grow human malaria parasites in mosquitoes for research and clinical studies – with its newfound expertise in the area of systems biology, the study will be more likely to find universal markers, allowing them to optimize vaccine candidates.

"If we have the ability to predict whether a vaccine candidate for malaria will work before it goes into large scale clinical trials, we could move away from today's typical 'trial and error' method toward a more powerful predictive approach to vaccine discovery and development," Seattle BioMed's Alan Aderem said.