Vir Biotech has launched a new antibody research initiative, expanding its partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to include the advancement of new innovations for HIV and malaria treatment.
The new commitment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports the development of Vir Biotech’s ‘vaccinal antibody’ technology, a significant tool in combatting global infectious diseases. Vir’s antibody research initiative aims for a functional cure for HIV and for the prevention of malaria.
The expansion of Vir’s partnership with the foundation will include the advancement of innovative platform technologies for the development of ‘broadly neutralising antibodies’. These antibodies will aim to provide a ‘vaccinal effect’ for the treatment of HIV and the prevention of malaria. The programme will combine Vir’s extensive expertise of viruses and immune systems with the Gates Foundation’s established global health leadership to address two of the world’s most challenging infectious diseases.
“Even though HIV has gone from being a near-term fatal disease to a chronic condition for those who have access to effective antiviral therapies, there remains a significant unmet need for new advances that could enable durable antiretroviral-free suppression of HIV,” explained Mike McCune, head of the HIV Frontiers Program at the Gates Foundation. “The foundation is pleased to support the development of this novel vaccinal antibody technology that has the potential to result in such suppression and is committed to advancing access to this cutting-edge innovation globally.”
Supporting this effort, the Gates Foundation has committed a $40 million equity investment and a $10 million grant. The initiative will evaluate the potential impact of broadly neutralising antibodies. These antibodies are engineered to stop viral replication and spread in people infected with HIV.
More preclinical research aims to look at the potential role of this technology in the prevention of malaria. The concept of ‘vaccinal antibodies’ is currently being applied across Vir’s SARS-CoV-2, chronic hepatitis B virus and influenza A product candidates.
Malaria is a disease caused by a parasite. The parasite is spread to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes. People who have malaria usually feel very sick with a high fever and shaking chills. While the disease is uncommon in temperate climates, malaria is still common in tropical and subtropical countries.
Each year nearly 290 million people are infected with malaria, and more than 400,000 people die of the disease.
To reduce malaria infections, world health programs distribute preventive drugs and insecticide-treated bed nets to protect people from mosquito bites. The World Health Organization has recommended a malaria vaccine for use in children who live in countries with high numbers of malaria cases.
Protective clothing, bed nets and insecticides can protect you while traveling. You also can take preventive medicine before, during and after a trip to a high-risk area. Many malaria parasites have developed resistance to common drugs used to treat the disease
Signs and symptoms of malaria may include:
- General feeling of discomfort
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle or joint pain
- Rapid breathing
- Rapid heart rate
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite of the genus plasmodium. The parasite is transmitted to humans most commonly through mosquito bites.
Mosquito transmission cycle
- Uninfected mosquito. A mosquito becomes infected by feeding on a person who has malaria.
- Transmission of parasite. If this mosquito bites you in the future, it can transmit malaria parasites to you.
- In the liver. Once the parasites enter your body, they travel to your liver — where some types can lie dormant for as long as a year.
- Into the bloodstream. When the parasites mature, they leave the liver and infect your red blood cells. This is when people typically develop malaria symptoms.
- On to the next person. If an uninfected mosquito bites you at this point in the cycle, it will become infected with your malaria parasites and can spread them to the other people it bites.
Other modes of transmission
Because the parasites that cause malaria affect red blood cells, people can also catch malaria from exposure to infected blood, including:
- From mother to unborn child
- Through blood transfusions
- By sharing needles used to inject drugs
The greatest risk factor for developing malaria is to live in or to visit areas where the disease is common. These include the tropical and subtropical regions of:
- Sub-Saharan Africa
- South and Southeast Asia
- Pacific Islands
- Central America and northern South America
The degree of risk depends on local malaria control, seasonal changes in malaria rates and the precautions you take to prevent mosquito bites.
Risks of more-severe disease
People at increased risk of serious disease include:
- Young children and infants
- Older adults
- Travelers coming from areas with no malaria
- Pregnant women and their unborn children
In many countries with high malaria rates, the problem is worsened by lack of access to preventive measures, medical care and information.
Immunity can wane
Residents of a malaria region may be exposed to the disease enough to acquire a partial immunity, which can lessen the severity of malaria symptoms. However, this partial immunity can disappear if you move to a place where you’re no longer frequently exposed to the parasite.
Malaria can be fatal, particularly when caused by the plasmodium species common in Africa. The World Health Organization estimates that about 94% of all malaria deaths occur in Africa — most commonly in children under the age of 5.
Malaria deaths are usually related to one or more serious complications, including:
- Cerebral malaria. If parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels to your brain (cerebral malaria), swelling of your brain or brain damage may occur. Cerebral malaria may cause seizures and coma.
- Breathing problems. Accumulated fluid in your lungs (pulmonary edema) can make it difficult to breathe.
- Organ failure. Malaria can damage the kidneys or liver or cause the spleen to rupture. Any of these conditions can be life-threatening.
- Anemia. Malaria may result in not having enough red blood cells for an adequate supply of oxygen to your body’s tissues (anemia).
- Low blood sugar. Severe forms of malaria can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), as can quinine — a common medication used to combat malaria. Very low blood sugar can result in coma or death.
If you live in or are traveling to an area where malaria is common, take steps to avoid mosquito bites. Mosquitoes are most active between dusk and dawn. To protect yourself from mosquito bites, you should:
- Cover your skin. Wear pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck in your shirt, and tuck pant legs into socks.
- Apply insect repellent to skin. Use an insect repellent registered with the Environmental Protection Agency on any exposed skin. These include repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD) or 2-undecanone. Do not use a spray directly on your face. Do not use products with OLE or PMD on children under age 3.
- Apply repellent to clothing. Sprays containing permethrin are safe to apply to clothing.
- Sleep under a net. Bed nets, particularly those treated with insecticides, such as permethrin, help prevent mosquito bites while you are sleeping.
If you’ll be traveling to a location where malaria is common, talk to your doctor a few months ahead of time about whether you should take drugs before, during and after your trip to help protect you from malaria parasites.
In general, the drugs taken to prevent malaria are the same drugs used to treat the disease. What drug you take depends on where and how long you are traveling and your own health.
The World Health Organization has recommended a malaria vaccine for use in children who live in countries with high numbers of malaria cases.
Researchers are continuing to develop and study malaria vaccines to prevent infection.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), a merging of the William H. Gates Foundation and the Gates Learning Foundation, is an American private foundation founded by Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates. Based in Seattle, Washington, it was launched in 2000 and is reported as of 2020 to be the second largest charitable foundation in the world, holding $49.8 billion in assets. The primary stated goals of the foundation are to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty across the world, and to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology in the U.S. Key individuals of the foundation include Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates, Warren Buffett, chief executive officer Mark Suzman, and Michael Larson.
The BMGF had an endowment of approximately $50 billion as of December 31, 2020. The scale of the foundation and the way it seeks to apply business techniques to giving makes it one of the leaders in venture philanthropy, though the foundation itself notes that the philanthropic role has limitations. In 2007, its founders were ranked as the second most generous philanthropists in the U.S., behind Warren Buffett. As of 2018, Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates had donated around $36 billion to the foundation. Since its founding, the foundation has endowed and supported a broad range of social, health, and education developments, including the establishment of the Gates Cambridge Scholarships at Cambridge University.
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