B. Franke-Fayard et al., npj Vaccines 7, 2022
Whole-sporozoite (WSp) malaria vaccines induce protective immune responses in animal malaria models and in humans. A recent clinical trial with a WSp vaccine comprising genetically attenuated parasites (GAP) which arrest growth early in the liver (PfSPZ-GA1), showed that GAPs can be safely administered to humans and immunogenicity is comparable to radiation-attenuated PfSPZ Vaccine. GAPs that arrest late in the liver stage (LA-GAP) have potential for increased potency as shown in rodent malaria models. Here we describe the generation of four putative P. falciparum LA-GAPs, generated by CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene deletion. One out of four gene-deletion mutants produced sporozoites in sufficient numbers for further preclinical evaluation. This mutant, PfΔmei2, lacking the mei2-like RNA gene, showed late liver growth arrest in human liver-chimeric mice with human erythrocytes, absence of unwanted genetic alterations and sensitivity to antimalarial drugs. These features of PfΔmei2 make it a promising vaccine candidate, supporting further clinical evaluation. PfΔmei2 (GA2) has passed regulatory approval for safety and efficacy testing in humans based on the findings reported in this study.