Malaria vaccine close to reality

A successful and effective malaria vaccine could be available in Africa by 2015 revealed a co-inventor of the shot against the killer disease, Tuesday. Advance trials of the RTS,S vaccine against falciparum malaria are under way in seven African countries. This variety of malaria is the deadliest and trials are said to be showing encouraging results according to GlaxoSmithKline researcher Joe Cohen, who has been working on developing the vaccine for over 20 years.

Cohen said while speaking at a conference in Washington, “We believe we'll have the first data coming out of the trials in 2012, and, to make a long story short, we could have the first implementation in Africa between 2015 and 2016.”

Results from the Phase II trials which were announced in 2008, showed RTS,S was 53 percent effective against clinical falciparum malaria in young children and up to 65 percent effective in infants, the two groups most at-risk from the parasitic disease.

For the Phase III trial around 12,000 children have already been enrolled in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, which have an enrollment target of 16,000 children. The trial protocol varies slightly from region to region to allow for cultural sensitivities, but the basics are the same, said Ghana clinical epidemiologist Kwaku Poku Asante and Ally Olutu, a clinician from Kenya. The pair are working on the vaccine trials. Children have to be in good health to join the trial, and will be followed up for 32 months, Asante said. Cohen said if the vaccine passes the Phase III trials and is licensed, it “will save many, many hundreds of thousands of lives in Africa,” even if it is only partially effective against malaria. But the road does not end here he said.

Some 200 people die of malaria every hour of every day every year, most of them children in Africa. “We must look ahead to an even better second generation vaccine, one that is maybe 80 percent effective,” said Cohen. He added, “That vaccine could address the malaria parasites that are prevalent elsewhere in the world, such as Asia and Latin America, where the plasmodium vivax parasite predominates.”

He however is worried about the financial crunch that can affect research. “Vaccines against other diseases that are ready to be implemented in Africa are being delayed because financing is not available,” he explained. PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) director Christian Loucq is looking for support from investors from the public and private sectors who came forth for the malaria vaccine. Loucq explained that the key to stopping this disease is to stop transmission. Mosquitoes get the malaria parasite when they bite an infected person, and then pass it back into the human chain when they bite someone else. “If you can effectively and widely prevent transmission from human to mosquitoes, you will prevent transmission of the disease. We believe that is our biggest hope for achieving our ultimate goal -- eliminating malaria -- but that's not going to happen before 2025…In the meantime, if we forget to keep investing in research we might, like we did in the '60s, once again lose the battle against malaria,” he added.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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