Campus News

Man on a mission to defeat malaria kicks off lecture series

Man on a mission to defeat malaria kicks off lecture series

Physician-scientist Stephen L. Hoffman, a leader in the race to develop a vaccine that defends healthy people against malaria, opens the fourth annual “Global Diseases: Voices from the ­Vanguard” ­lecture series at 5p.m. Jan. 20 in the Chapel.

The lecture series features heroes in the global battle against premature death and disease.

Hoffman will address “Malaria Vaccines: From Parasites to Prevention.” He will tell how his passion for malaria research, which took hold when he was in the U.S. Navy, eventually led him to found Sanaria Inc., a company determined to develop a vaccine that could offer longer, more productive lives to millions worldwide.

Although Greek physicians first described malaria more than 2,000 years ago, no lasting cure has been found. It now kills more than one million people each year. Most victims are children and pregnant women, living primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease brings misery and early death and thwarts economic progress throughout the tropics.

The disease thrives wherever mosquitoes spread the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, and a preventive vaccine is desperately needed because this organism has a genius for outwitting drugs. As soon as doctors begin using a new medicine, P. falciparum begins developing resistance to it.

In the 1960s, researchers discovered that minute quantities of a preventive vaccine could be made by irradiating the parasite at a certain point in its life cycle, then injecting the attenuated bug into healthy people. But this was not seen as doable because supplying the world would mean cultivating and processing astronomical numbers of mosquitoes, according to Dan Colley, director of UGA’s Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases.

“This was beyond the vision of other vaccine developers, but not Steve Hoffman,” Colley said. “He crystallized the problem, founded a company and raised the funds to take on this mission.”

This meant severing his ties to Celera Genomics, the preeminent gene sequencing company, which Hoffman did to launch Sanaria Inc. He is the founder, CEO and chief scientific officer of the only company in the U.S. devoted solely to malaria vaccine development.