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The World Today: Can the COVID Playbook Help End Malaria?
12:15 - 1:15 PM ET


For decades, the world has sought an end to malaria, the devastating mosquito born disease that claims half a million lives and sickens a quarter billion people every year. While Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 3.3 has called for the eradication of malaria by 2030, significant progress towards this goal has remained out of reach. New developments, however, including advancements in mRNA vaccine technologies developed to stop COVID-19 infections, are giving people hope.  

Recently, Ghana became the first country to approve the R21, a protein-based vaccine targeting malaria. Meanwhile, in December 2022, BioNTech announced a phase 1, first-in-human clinical trial for its mRNA-based vaccine for malaria, an advancement springboarded by the development of COVID prophylactics. How will these trials and therapeutics be received by the countries and people most affected by malaria and how will they impact people’s lives? Will mRNA technologies lead to the malarial cure the world has long pursued? What other lessons might be pulled from the pandemic playbook to tackle other high burden diseases?  


Matthew LaurensMD, MPH - Dr. Laurens is a pediatric infectious disease specialist with a primary research interest in malaria and antimalarial immunity. He conducts studies at the Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) in Baltimore and at international sites in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Malawi. Dr. Laurens evaluates vaccines and therapeutics that target infectious pathogens, studies the interaction of HIV and malaria and investigates the acquisition of antimalarial immunity. The broad goal of Dr. Laurens’ research is to illuminate the mechanisms of immunity to malaria with the aim to inform development of malaria vaccines and therapeutics.

Drew Weissman, MD, PhD - Dr. Weissman's laboratory focuses on the study of RNA and innate immune system biology and the application of these findings to vaccine research and gene therapy. There are three main projects in his laboratory. The first project began through the use of mRNA encoding antigen as a delivery system to load dendritic cells to promote broad immune responses as part of a vaccine. This project has expanded to include basic studies of RNA immunogenicity and translation and the development of applications for gene therapy. The second project develops new HIV envelope immunogens that can induce broad responses and cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies. The third project continues previous studies that identified a protein found on DC, macrophages, and epithelial cells that binds HIV envelope with high affinity. The main focus of this project is testing whether this and related molecules function in vivo to promote HIV genital tract infection.

Martina Mchenga, PhD, MA – Dr. Mchenga is a health economist and a UKRI GCRF Accelerate Hub Postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Social Science Research, University of Cape Town. Her research interests include social and structural determinants of health, economic evaluation of health interventions, health financing, health policy and health systems strengthening.  She has 10 years of work experience in conducting quantitative data analysis to inform policy. Dr. Mchenga holds a PhD in Economics from Stellenbosch University and Masters of Arts in Economics from University of Malawi, Chancellor College.  Previously, she worked as an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) fellow at the Ministries of health in Sierra Leone and Malawi providing technical assistance on health financing reforms for universal health coverage.


Carol McLaughlin, MD, MPH, MSCE, DTM&H - McLaughlin is the Senior Advisor, Global Public Health, for the Center for High Impact Philanthropy. McLaughlin is senior advisor for global public health and founding team member at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy housed at Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2), as well as faculty in the Division of Infectious Disease in the Perelman School of Medicine. She is a public health specialist and infectious disease physician with experience in applied research, community engagement, and program implementation in diverse global settings. Actively engaged in teaching and partnership building, she directs the Global Health Equity Residency Track in the Department of Internal Medicine and co-directs the Global Health Track in Penn’s Master of Public Health program.