Battle to Beat Malaria Poster

In all of medical science, there has been no longer, tougher battle than the fight against malaria. It’s one of the world’s deadliest diseases—more than 600,000 people die of malaria every year, the vast majority of them children. Malaria is not just a tropical disease. It has blighted human history across the United States, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The United States was only declared malaria-free in 1951, and eight U.S. presidents suffered from the disease, including George Washington. Recently, malaria has re-emerged in the United States, with a handful of locally acquired cases detected in Florida, Texas, and Maryland. But we’re now at an exciting turning point in the fight against the disease.

THE BATTLE TO BEAT MALARIA tells the inside story, filmed on four continents, of the effort to develop a “game-changing” new malaria vaccine, the culmination of a decade’s worth of scientific research. The film follows the team behind the successful Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as it trials R21/Matrix-M, a malaria vaccine that they hope will be the first candidate to meet the World Health Organization’s target of 75% efficacy. More than 140 previous candidates have failed; just one has been approved for use. But that vaccine—known as RTS,S—is expensive and currently has extremely limited supply.

As the R21 trial results come in from children around Africa, the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, makes a high-risk decision to produce tens of millions of doses of the low-cost vaccine, even before the World Health Organization (WHO) approves it.

To gain WHO approval, the research team must provide compelling data from Phase 3 trials in thousands of children and undergo a rigorous review process. Even if they succeed, international donors must still pony up enough funds to get shots in arms in time for the 2024 malaria season.

The film tells the dramatic inside story of this historic breakthrough, and offers a raw, intimate look at the scientists, medics, and trial participants battling this deadly disease.

Key contributors share the emotional highlights of their journey, including the University of Oxford’s Sir Adrian Hill, immunologist Katie Ewer, and clinical trials lead Dr. Mehreen Datoo; the principal investigator on the Tanzanian Phase 3 trial Dr. Ally Olotu; and the Serum Institute’s billionaire CEO and owner Adar Poonawalla and its chief scientist Dr. Umesh Shaligram. And Farhiya Salum, Zuhura Abasi, and Huba Mohamedi—three generations of a family involved in the Tanzanian Phase 3 trial—also bear witness to the impact of the disease on their community and the promise that the new vaccine holds.