Population replacement gene drive characteristics for malaria elimination in a range of seasonal transmission settings: a modelling study

S. Leung, N. Windbichler, E. A. Wenger, C. A. Bever and P. Selvaraj,  Malaria Journal,  21:226. 2022.

BACKGROUND: Gene drives are a genetic engineering method where a suite of genes is inherited at higher than Mendelian rates and has been proposed as a promising new vector control strategy to reinvigorate the fight against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. METHODS: Using an agent-based model of malaria transmission with vector genetics, the impacts of releasing population-replacement gene drive mosquitoes on malaria transmission are examined and the population replacement gene drive system parameters required to achieve local elimination within a spatially-resolved, seasonal Sahelian setting are quantified. The performance of two different gene drive systems-“classic” and “integral”-are evaluated. Various transmission regimes (low, moderate, and high-corresponding to annual entomological inoculation rates of 10, 30, and 80 infectious bites per person) and other simultaneous interventions, including deployment of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and passive healthcare-seeking, are also simulated.

RESULTS: Local elimination probabilities decreased with pre-existing population target site resistance frequency, increased with transmission-blocking effectiveness of the introduced antiparasitic gene and drive efficiency, and were context dependent with respect to fitness costs associated with the introduced gene. Of the four parameters, transmission-blocking effectiveness may be the most important to focus on for improvements to future gene drive strains because a single release of classic gene drive mosquitoes is likely to locally eliminate malaria in low to moderate transmission settings only when transmission-blocking effectiveness is very high (above ~ 80-90%). However, simultaneously deploying ITNs and releasing integral rather than classic gene drive mosquitoes significantly boosts elimination probabilities, such that elimination remains highly likely in low to moderate transmission regimes down to transmission-blocking effectiveness values as low as ~ 50% and in high transmission regimes with transmission-blocking effectiveness values above ~ 80-90%. CONCLUSION: A single release of currently achievable population replacement gene drive mosquitoes, in combination with traditional forms of vector control, can likely locally eliminate malaria in low to moderate transmission regimes within the Sahel. In a high transmission regime, higher levels of transmission-blocking effectiveness than are currently available may be required.

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