Gates Foundation critiques our report on malaria vaccine

Editor’s note: Last week, Humanosphere reported on the disappointing clinical results of the latest (and perhaps final) test of an experimental malaria vaccine championed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, along with manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline. The Gates Foundation contends the article mischaracterized their position. Below is the philanthropy’s letter to the editor, from malaria senior program officer Bryan Callahan.


To the Editor:

Your recent story on the Gates Foundation’s malaria strategy (Robert Fortner, “Malaria vaccine disappoints, shifts strategy for eradication,” April 25) seriously mischaracterized our approach to vaccines.

The most egregious claim was the allegation that “the Gates Foundation [has switched]to a new strategy that emphasizes drug-based eradication.” As evidence, the article cited Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2015 Annual Letter, but the letter says nothing of the sort. For your reference, here is the full text of its malaria section:

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“We won’t be able to completely eradicate malaria by 2030, but we will have all the tools we need to do so. These will include a vaccine that prevents people with malaria from spreading it to the mosquitoes that bite them, a single-dose cure that clears the parasite completely out of peoples’ bodies, and a diagnostic test that can reveal right away whether a person is infected. Early versions of all these tools are in development now. In 15 years, we’ll be poised to send malaria the way of smallpox and polio.”

The letter clearly does not prioritize drugs over vaccines, diagnostics, or other tools. Rather, it reflects the foundation’s long-held view that malaria eradication will require the development of an integrated set of interventions.

The article also references a November 2014 blog post by Bill Gates to assert that the foundation has “relegated vaccines from the front line to a mop up role.” Again, however, the cited text directly contradicts the article’s claim. It says quite plainly that malaria eradication will rely on three integrated factors: complete detection (effective diagnostics and disease surveillance), complete cure (highly effective one-dose treatments), and complete prevention (transmission-blocking vaccines and novel vector control methods).

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The Gates Foundation believes strongly in the promise and potential of malaria vaccine research, and in 2014 we committed $160 million in new resources toward the discovery and development of new constructs. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify our position.

Sincerely,

BryanhCallahanBryan Callahan

Senior Program Officer

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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