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Grand Challenges Canada: Using plant viruses in the fight against malaria?

April 5, 2011 - 18:01 -- Dave Richard

Dear colleagues,
My name is Dave Richard and I’m a new investigator based at the Centre de Recherche en Infectiologie du CHUL, Université Laval, in Quebec City, Canada.
Grand Challenges Canada has launched a program called Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health. The concept is to support innovative ideas to solve major global health problems. Like the Bill and Melinda Gates Grand Challenges Exploration, they will initially provide 100000$ for a year with the possibility of getting an additional 1 million$ afterwards. As part of their application, the candidates had to film a 2 minute video explaining their "bold idea" and these are now online for the general public to vote. There are 4 candidates proposing projects on malaria. The link to view the videos is:
You just have to click on the little Thumb (I like) at the right of the video.

Please spare a few minutes of your time to vote and increase the chances of at least one malaria-related project getting funded. My video is the first on the list and I of course would very much appreciate your support!

My bold idea is to develop a new antimalarial vaccine platform based on the Papaya Mosaic Virus. Despite years of intensive research efforts there is still no vaccine conferring long-lasting protective immunity against malaria. The RTS,S vaccine is the most advanced candidate and the only one with demonstrated potential in the field having been shown to reduce clinical symptoms and disease severity. There is therefore a critical need to increase our potential antimalarial vaccine arsenal if we are to have any hope of one day reaching the goal of eradication. One of the key problems in the generation of a malaria vaccine is that malarial antigens are often poorly immunogenic. By combining malarial antigens with adjuvant systems, high levels of specific antibodies can be obtained but T-cell responses are often weak. The consensus in the malaria community is that induction of a broad immune response of the Th1 type will be required for the development of efficient malaria vaccines. Recently, adenoviral vectors have shown great promise towards reaching this goal but there are concerns that their efficacy as adjuvants could be reduced due to their high seroprevalence in the human population.

Plant-virus-based vaccines have emerged as a promising avenue in vaccine development. Plant viruses are often highly immunogenic, they are phylogenetically distant from the human immune system and possess a complex and repetitive organization. Recently, an innovative vaccine platform based on Papaya Mosaic Virus virus-like particles was developed by professor Denis Leclerc at the Centre de Recherche en Infectiologie of Laval University. Addition of the PapMV VLPs to the trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine demonstrated their incredible adjuvant capacities by improving the humoral and cellular mediated immune response against the vaccine and broadening the response to highly conserved proteins. Most critically, it conferred protection to a challenge with a distant heterosubtypic influenza strain in mice. In addition, the adjuvanted vaccines induced a long memory protective immune response for more than 10 months. Finally, PapMV VLPs are cheap and easy to produce.

For all these reasons, I strongly believe that PapMV VLPs could potentially provide an exciting and innovative platform for the development of a new generation of antimalarial vaccines and funding from the Grand Challenges Canada would allow me to investigate that exciting possibility.

I would like to sincerely thank you for your support!

Best wishes,