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Monday 1 July 2024

New BBC Horizon Documentary Unveils the Battle to Beat Malaria

Image: BBC Press

By Jon Donnis

Get ready for an extraordinary inside look at one of the most crucial scientific battles of our time. BBC Factual has announced "Horizon: The Battle to Beat Malaria," a one-hour documentary set to air on BBC Two and iPlayer. This compelling film, produced by Wingspan Productions, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, and ARTE France, in collaboration with BBC and NOVA/GBH, chronicles the groundbreaking efforts to develop a new malaria vaccine that could revolutionize the fight against one of the world's deadliest diseases.

Malaria remains a formidable adversary, afflicting over 200 million people and claiming more than 600,000 lives annually, the majority of whom are children under five. Despite the existence of one approved malaria vaccine, its high cost and limited supply have restricted its impact. However, a new beacon of hope has emerged thanks to a dedicated group of vaccine scientists, including a pioneering team at Oxford University. This team has not only been at the forefront of malaria research for over a decade but also played a pivotal role in developing the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Filmed with privileged access to key scientists across four continents over several years, "Horizon: The Battle to Beat Malaria" offers a riveting inside story of the development of the R21/Matrix-M™ vaccine. This vaccine aspires to be the first to achieve the World Health Organization's goal of 75% efficacy in preventing malaria.

The documentary provides expert insights from project lead Professor Sir Adrian Hill and his team, capturing the years of meticulous lab work and numerous trials leading up to the critical Phase 3 clinical trials in children across Africa. Viewers will witness moments of high emotion, including when Professor Katie Ewer, the lead immunologist, receives the initial Phase 3 trial results, revealing the vaccine's potential to save millions of lives.

The film also takes audiences behind the scenes at the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, led by CEO Adar Poonawalla. SII is the project's key biotechnology partner, committed to producing up to 100 million low-cost doses of the vaccine annually.

Other notable contributors share their personal journeys, including Dr. Mehreen Datoo, an NHS doctor and severe malaria survivor, Dr. Ally Olotu, a clinician and Tanzanian trial chief, and Dr. Umesh Shaligram, SII's chief scientist.

Tom Coveney, Head of Commissioning, Science, remarks, "This is a once-in-a-generation breakthrough. Millions of lives could be saved, thanks to the work of pioneering British scientists and their colleagues around the globe. We're delighted to bring this world-shaping story to our UK audience."

Archie Baron, Executive Producer for Wingspan Productions, adds, "Stories don't get any bigger than this. Chronicling the key moments of developing a vaccine with the potential to save millions of lives is a documentary privilege and responsibility of a lifetime. It is a huge achievement for British and global science."

Jared Lipworth, Head of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, emphasizes, "Our mission is to show, through visually and emotionally powerful stories, how scientific discoveries get made and how science can improve our lives. This film does that in spades, and we are honored to play a part in bringing it to the world."

"Horizon: The Battle to Beat Malaria," produced and directed by Catherine Gale (Horizon Special: The Vaccine), with narration by Lucian Msamati (Game of Thrones), is set to premiere soon. This documentary is a testament to the relentless pursuit of scientific breakthroughs and the profound impact they can have on humanity. Don't miss this powerful story of hope and innovation.

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