Britain's GSK will shift production of the world's first effective malaria vaccine to Indian COVID-19 vaccine developer Bharat Biotech, as part of global efforts to battle the deadly fever, the drugmakers said on Wednesday.
The agreement includes transfer of manufacturing of the protein part of the vaccine, RTS,S/AS01, while GSK will continue to supply Bharat Biotech with the adjuvant or vaccine booster for the shot, the joint statement said.
The vaccine, developed by GSK for over three decades and with nonprofit group PATH since 2001, is currently being administered under a special World Health Organization-backed scheme in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
Malaria is caused in humans by five types of parasites transmitted through the bite of a certain variety of infected female mosquitoes.
Two of these parasite variants, including Plasmodium falciparum, against which the GSK vaccine was developed, pose the greatest threat.
"Helping secure the long-term future of the only vaccine available by working with an established leader like Bharat Biotech is vital for the continued fight against this devastating disease," said Thomas Breuer, the chief medical officer for vaccines at GSK.
There were 229 million cases of the disease worldwide in 2019, with 94% of the malaria cases and deaths occurring in Africa, according to the WHO.
London-listed GSK has committed to donate up to 10 million doses of the vaccine to WHO's pilot program, and supply up to 15 million doses annually until 2028 if recommended for wider use by the U.N. agency.
Hyderabad, India-based Bharat Biotech has been supplying vaccines to the Indian region, vaccine alliance GAVI and UNICEF, and currently manufactures 17 licensed vaccines including those for typhoid and polio.
It is expected that Bharat Biotech will be the sole supplier of the malaria vaccine by 2029 at the latest, with GSK continuing to supply the adjuvant to them, the companies said.