Brazil is a few steps away from developing the world’s first vaccine Schistosomiasis, a disease caused by worms and causes large abdominal swelling in children and adults in poorer areas of the southern hemisphere, particularly in Africa. Innovation is the work of a team Osvaldo Cruz FoundationPublic organization in Rio de Janeiro.
Early trials of the vaccine, christened Schistovac (SM14), in laboratory animals were able to reduce infection. Schistosoma masnoni In more than 90% of infections in mice and rabbits. In humans, the vaccine has been shown to be safe, with the main side effect being pain at the site of application. Miriam Tendler, the researcher who led the team that developed the vaccine over the years, explains by phone that the results have been „great from the first phase.”
It is the second most socioeconomically devastating parasitic disease in the world, after malaria.
At this time, the researchers are completing the last phase of human trials and working towards the necessary certification by the World Health Organization (WHO). After testing 300 people in Brazil in recent years, another 2,000 people will now be tested in Senegal. If all goes well, the vaccine will become the world’s first vaccine to protect against the worm. Vaccine studies began in the 1980s, when the aim was to protect livestock from parasitic infections. After decades of industry disinterest and a few failed attempts in developed countries, Tendler estimates that the vaccine could begin marketing in late 2025 or early 2026.
Popularly known as „water belly” in Brazil, the disease is closely linked to poor sanitary conditions and lack of sewage and drinking water, which is why it affects poorer countries above all. Infection is caused by the larvae of parasitic snail eggs that penetrate the human skin. Already in the blood, the larvae metamorphose and settle in organs such as the liver. Adult worms end up in the veins of the intestine or bladder, forming a characteristic bloated abdomen.
The vaccine contains the Sm14 protein Schistosoma. These proteins are important because they carry the necessary lipids that guarantee the survival of the parasite. But the vaccine protein is modified to block the transport of these lipids, thereby inhibiting the proliferation of the parasite. The discovery could dramatically change the landscape in dozens of countries where the disease is currently being treated with drugs. Although it has low mortality, schistosomiasis causes a great loss of quality of life. For example, it affects the learning process of children in schools or the work performance of young people, explains the researcher.
The disease is closely linked to poor sanitary conditions and lack of sanitation and drinking water, which is why it affects the poorest countries above all.
According to the WHO, an estimated 200 million people are infected with the disease each year, and 800 million live in high-risk areas. There are 74 countries in Africa. In Latin America, Brazil concentrates 95% of the cases. Globally, it is the second most socioeconomically devastating parasitic disease, behind malaria.
The vaccine is the result of a partnership between the Osvaldo Cruz Foundation and the American company Origen Biotechnology, but it was developed entirely in Brazil. All the technology used is Brazilian, and there are patents, Tendler proudly points out. The researcher emphasizes that Brazil does not have the financial resources to conduct research in Europe or the United States, but instead has a deep knowledge of tropical and parasitic diseases. In his opinion, it will be an iconic vaccine: “It is a very sophisticated vaccine and it breaks a paradigm that lasts until today. „We believe this will pave the way for other anti-parasitic vaccines that are off the radar of big industry because there is no market in countries in the northern hemisphere, so they are not on their priority list,” he points out. . The companies working on developing the vaccine have promised to commercialize it at low cost. This applies to what is defined as a „humane” vaccine.