To assess the safety and immunogenicity of two vaccines, MSP142-FVO/Alhydrogel and MSP142-3D7/Alhydrogel, targeting blood-stage Plasmodium falciparum parasites.
A Phase 1 open-label, dose-escalating study.
Quintiles Phase 1 Services, Lenexa, Kansas between July 2004 and November 2005.
Sixty healthy malaria-naïve volunteers 18–48 y of age.
The C-terminal 42-kDa region of merozoite surface protein 1 (MSP142) corresponding to the two allelic forms present in FVO and 3D7 P. falciparum lines were expressed in Escherichia coli, refolded, purified, and formulated on Alhydrogel (aluminum hydroxide). For each vaccine, volunteers in each of three dose cohorts (5, 20, and 80 μg) were vaccinated at 0, 28, and 180 d. Volunteers were followed for 1 y.
The safety of MSP142-FVO/Alhydrogel and MSP142-3D7/Alhydrogel was assessed. The antibody response to each vaccine was measured by reactivity to homologous and heterologous MSP142, MSP119, and MSP133 recombinant proteins and recognition of FVO and 3D7 parasites.
Anti-MSP142 antibodies were detected by ELISA in 20/27 (74%) and 22/27 (81%) volunteers receiving three vaccinations of MSP142-FVO/Alhydrogel or MSP142-3D7/Alhydrogel, respectively. Regardless of the vaccine, the antibodies were cross-reactive to both MSP142-FVO and MSP142-3D7 proteins. The majority of the antibody response targeted the C-terminal 19-kDa domain of MSP142, although low-level antibodies to the N-terminal 33-kDa domain of MSP142 were also detected. Immunofluorescence microscopy of sera from the volunteers demonstrated reactivity with both FVO and 3D7 P. falciparum schizonts and free merozoites. Minimal in vitro growth inhibition of FVO or 3D7 parasites by purified IgG from the sera of the vaccinees was observed.
The MSP142/Alhydrogel vaccines were safe and well tolerated but not sufficiently immunogenic to generate a biologic effect in vitro. Addition of immunostimulants to the Alhydrogel formulation to elicit higher vaccine-induced responses in humans may be required for an effective vaccine.
Background: Generally, adults living in parts of the world where malaria is common develop protective immunity against the parasite. This means they may get infected but not become ill as a result. However, there are individuals, such as pregnant women and children under the age of five, who are more likely to develop symptoms of malaria due to no (or reduced) natural immunity. A successful malaria vaccine would stimulate an individual's immune system to respond to the malaria parasite and prevent serious clinical disease. Many different groups are currently developing potential vaccines. Several candidates are based on a protein called MSP1 (merozoite surface protein 1) which is found on the surface of the blood-stage form of the malaria parasite. However, in nature parasites carry different versions of the MSP1 protein, and ideally a successful vaccine would bring about immune responses against these different versions. The researchers carrying out this trial wanted to compare the safety and immune responses against candidate vaccines representing two different MSP1 proteins, which covered many different parasite lines. As a phase 1 trial, the study was carried out in healthy adult volunteers. Sixty individuals were assigned to receive an injection of the vaccines, either containing a recombinant protein analogous to the FVO parasite line (termed MSP142-FVO) or the 3D7 parasite line (termed MSP142-3D7) at three different dose levels. The trial's primary objective was to assess safety, which was done by collecting data on any abnormal signs or symptoms up to 14 d after each of three vaccinations. These outcomes were graded and then defined as related to the vaccine or not. The researchers also looked at antibody levels in participants' blood against different variants of the MSP1 protein, as well as using in vitro tests to see whether antibodies from vaccinated individuals could prevent malaria parasites from growing in lab culture.
What the trial shows: The safety outcomes of the trial showed that the most common type of side effect experienced by the volunteers was pain at the injection site. The vast majority of such events were graded as mild, although there was one single case of a severe event (high levels of pain experienced by one volunteer at the injection site). There was no significant association between the chance of side effects and the vaccine dosage that an individual received. Following vaccination, antibody levels against the protein on which the vaccine was based were detected, although these levels dropped over time. The researchers did not see a strong association between the vaccine dosage that individuals received and the level of antibody response. However, the two vaccines when compared seemed to be equally good at raising an immune response and both caused antibodies to be raised corresponding to different variants of the MSP1 protein. However, the antibodies raised did not seem to be particularly effective at preventing malaria parasites from growing in lab culture.
Strengths and limitations: Strengths of this study include a comparison of three different dosage levels of the vaccines under study, as well as a comparison of two vaccines based on the same protein, representing different parasite lines. Limitations to the study include the small number of participants, which makes the trial underpowered to detect all but large differences in side effects between the groups being compared. A placebo arm was not included in the trial, so it is not possible to be sure that the numbers of side effects observed here can be attributed to the vaccines or not. Finally, the procedure for assigning individuals to the two different vaccines involved alternation, rather than true randomization, which could have minimized the risk of bias.
Contribution to the evidence: The trial reported here is an essential step in vaccine development. The results provide the first evidence relating to safety for these two vaccines, and do not raise any safety concerns at this stage. Although the vaccines raised an immune response, the antibodies raised did not seem to have much of an effect on malaria parasites in vitro. While these vaccines are safe, alternative MSP1 vaccine formulations anticipated to bring about a greater immune response will likely be studied before proceeding to field studies.