Impact on Malaria Vaccines Development with AI
In 2006, biochemist Matthew Higgins built his research group with a focus on malaria, one of the top global health threats after tuberculosis. The disease took the lives of 627,000 people in 2020, with children under five being the most affected. With symptoms that are easily missed or misdiagnosed, preventing malaria is a top priority.
Higgins and his team are working to understand how the malaria parasite interacts with human-host proteins to design more effective therapies, including a vaccine. Currently, only one approved vaccine exists, but it only has about 30% efficacy. Another promising vaccine developed by the Jenner Institute has an efficacy rate of 77%. Both vaccines only intercept at the first stage of the malaria parasite’s life cycle.
Higgins aims to develop a multi-stage vaccine that can work at every phase of the infection cycle. This is challenging due to the shapeshifting nature of malaria parasites and the complexity of their surface proteins.
AlphaFold, an AI system, has played a crucial role in overcoming these challenges. By combining AlphaFold’s predicted structure with experimental data, Higgins and his team were able to understand the molecular structure of a crucial protein in the malaria parasite. This breakthrough has allowed them to move towards preclinical and clinical development of the vaccine.
In early 2023, a human clinical trial of the vaccine will be conducted, and AlphaFold will continue to be a critical technology in the pursuit of creating new, useful proteins for specific applications, such as vaccines.