On February 21, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announced the launch of a Phase I study testing a vaccine that aims to prevent the infection of mosquito-borne diseases using an unorthodox approach. 

Instead of targeting individual pathogens, NIAID’s vaccine would induce immunity against the mosquito’s saliva and indirectly provide protection against diseases including Zika, dengue fever, West Nile fever, and malaria. After immunization, protection would rely on the induced immune response against the saliva proteins after each mosquito bite. This response could then allow the host’s immune system to neutralize the invading pathogen at the same time. 

Should this approach of indirect protection be successful, the vaccine could threaten the commercial interests of a broad selection of vaccine manufacturers.

While Sanofi’s dengue vaccine is already struggling out of the gate to reach its sales goals, Takeda and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) are also aiming to bring their dengue vaccines to the market.

Three companies are currently targeting malaria, a disease that currently has no effective treatment options. GSK, Genvac, and Sanaria all have vaccines in Phase II that attempt to provide immunogenicity against Plasmodium falciparum.

Similarly, a variety of companies are developing vaccines against the Zika virus, although none of those products has yet to reach Phase II. However, it is debatable how threatening NIAID’s vaccine will be to any of these products. Although some in vitro studies indicate that providing indirect immunity is possible, NIAID’s vaccine faces a long and challenging developmental process to prove its efficacy.

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Historically, developing vaccines against mosquito-borne diseases has been difficult for a variety of reasons, and NIAID’s product will likely encounter similar issues. For example, this vaccine might only induce immunogenicity against a specific species of mosquito, allowing for the possibility that the national or regional genetic diversity of the mosquitos may impact the vaccine’s efficacy.

Furthermore, the efficacy of indirect protection might fluctuate significantly based on the pathogen, the physical location of the mosquito bite, the pathogen concentration in the saliva, and other variables. In countries with significant mosquito populations, the general population might already carry a natural immunogenicity against mosquito salvia proteins due to the regular exposure. 

Hence, this vaccine, if successful, will likely add to the available preventative measures against its various indicated diseases, but it is unlikely to replace the other commercial products in this space.