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Malaria Vaccine Underway

malaria vaccine
On Thursday July 24, GlaxoSmithKline asked European Medicine’s Authority to approve RTS,S, its malaria resistant vaccine, for global use. According to scientists, it is the first vaccine to show promising signs of protecting children from malaria.

Malaria plagues 3.4 billion people – in other words – half of the world’s population. It is responsible for 800,000 deaths per year – the majority in children under 5 who live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Until now, no vaccine has been effective enough to quell the endemic. In past trials, the effects of the vaccine are ultimately weakened over time to the point where they are virtually futile. RTS,S, however, is showing promising longevity. It is the first malaria vaccine to reach the regulatory approval.

In the most advanced trial to date, 1,500 infants and children from several African countries were given the RTS,S vaccine. Eighteen months after the last injections, researchers re-examined the young vaccinated children. They found that the vaccine nearly halved the number of cases of malaria. For infants, the drug reduced incidences of malaria by a quarter.

In Kenya, for example, malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality. Out of a population of 34 million, 25 million are at risk for the disease. For every 1000 children who received the RTS,S clinical drug, 2000 clinical cases were prevented.

Researchers predict that the vaccine has the ability to provide up to 46 percent protection against malaria when given to children between 5-17 months old. The vaccine, coupled with other preventative measures, including insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malarial drugs, could have a considerable impact on malaria-plagued populations.

GSK is now developing RTS,S in conjunction with the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative with funding support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of PATH MVI is to accelerate the development of malaria vaccines and catalyze timely access in afflicted countries.

Scientists and researchers are hopeful that the vaccine will be approved as early as 2015. Although the drug is still not 100-proof, a licensed malaria vaccine would have profound results. It could dramatically halt the prevalence of this persistent and stubborn disease. For years scientists have experienced a vicious cycle of trial and error when it comes to the malaria vaccine; time and time, they have been forced to come back to the drawing board. This time they are optimistic, and eager to see the billions of lives that will be saved.

– Samantha Scheetz

Sources: WHO, BBC, Gavi Alliance, Kemri.org
Photo: BBC