Davos 2022: Bill Gates says Pfizer partnership will support malaria mRNA vaccine 'dream'

The number of deaths from malaria is rising again, partly due to the impact of the pandemic

Bill Gates told the World Economic Forum that the mRNA platform could be used 'to make a really powerful malaria vaccine'. AP
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A partnership between US drug maker Pfizer and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to speed up the development of vaccines to prevent diseases that cause newborn mortality would also advance efforts to make a high-tech malaria vaccine, Bill Gates said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday.

Pfizer and the foundation will also work with Rwanda, Malawi and other African countries to increase access to all of the company’s medicines and vaccines for their populations.

“[We have] a dream for [beating] malaria, and we'll talk to all the great mRNA companies, including Pfizer, about this … we could use that mRNA platform to make a really powerful malaria vaccine,” Mr Gates said.

The number of deaths from malaria is rising again, partly due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Climate change also risks spreading malaria-carrying mosquitoes to previously unaffected areas.

Drug and insecticide resistance are also on the increase, according to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an international financing and partnership organisation.

From left, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame, Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera, philanthropist and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Bill Gates and Pfizer group president Angela Hwang, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. AFP

Covid-19 also accelerated the development of mRNA technology by Pfizer and other pharmaceutical makers.

“We have the malaria vaccine that we funded with [British pharmaceutical company] GSK. But the duration of protection is too short and so [it could be] possible now that mRNA has been proven, that we'll be able to solve that problem,” said Mr Gates.

The day-to-day fight against Malaria requires a dynamic response, Mr Gates said.

“We have pretty good drugs and pretty good bed nets, we have to constantly change the drugs because you get drug resistance … we have to change the active ingredients, we have a great pipeline of that,” he said.

“We have some genetic approaches called gene drive, that are still in the laboratory that may cut mosquito populations.”

More funding is key, however, said Mr Gates.

“So, a lot of R&D investment [is needed], a lot of delivery investment, Global Fund is the biggest multilateral in that space,” he said.

“And so hopefully, if they can raise the $18 billion they hope to, we'll take the increase in malaria deaths of the last couple of years and get it back down to a much lower number.”

Mr Gates has worked with UAE President, Sheikh Mohamed, for more than a decade on efforts to combat malaria.

At the announcement of the initiative in Davos on Wednesday, Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera said it was “not a handout but a real partnership”.

“For Malawi, where access to quality medicines and vaccines is a real challenge, this accord means that our quest for universal health care in Malawi has a real shot,” he said.

In terms of the distribution of medicines and vaccines, Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda will initially take on responsibilities for logistics, but in the future, other established trade hubs — such as the UAE — could be brought into the alliance to support these efforts, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bouria said.

“I think those five countries will be the first ones to organise the logistics, so that we can have [a] flow of the medicine without any interruption,” Mr Bouria said.

“Logistics will be one of the main issues that needs to be addressed.”

Rwanda's President Paul Kagame said it is crucial to “make sure that we pay attention to availability, to affordability, and access by everyone in our country [to healthcare] without leaving behind any level of income people in our country".

Updated: May 25, 2022, 11:33 AM
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