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Malaria vaccine may soon be a reality

Dec 11, 2008

A leading medical journal has reported that a vaccine against malaria is in its advanced stage of trial and may be the much-awaited scientific breakthrough in saving lives. Malaria kills a million people globally every year, 90% of them in Africa alone.

New Delhi: The world may soon have its first vaccine against malaria. Results of Phase II human trials of the world’s most clinically advanced malaria vaccine candidate — called RTS,S/AS — was found to offer protection to both babies and young children in Africa, reports the New England Journal of Medicine.

In children aged 5 to 17 months, the vaccine reduced malaria risk by 53% over an eight-month follow-up period and was found to be safe. In babies, the vaccine candidate can be administered as part of the routine immunisation programmes.

Now that two separate phase II trials have reaffirmed safety and effectiveness, the launch the phase III study of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Biologicals’ RTS,S/AS vaccine candidate across Africa are expected to begin early next year, pending regulatory approvals.

Malaria kills almost one million people each year — mostly young children — with over 90% deaths occurring in Africa.

The studies were conducted in Kenya and Tanzania and were presented today at the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting in the US.

RTS,S/AS is the leading candidate in a global effort coordinated by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) to develop a malaria vaccine.

“Today’s study results strongly show that our investments in developing malaria vaccines are beginning to pay dividends,” said Christian Loucq, MVI director, said in a statement.

“We are closer than ever before to developing a malaria vaccine for children in Africa.”

The vaccine works alongside standard infant vaccines of WHO’s Expanded Programme of Immunisation, consistently shown to be safe and effective. “We can begin to foresee the difference this scientific breakthrough could make in the lives of millions of African children who suffer and die from this disease year after year,” said Joe Cohen, a co-inventor of the vaccine and vice-president of Research and Development, Emerging Diseases & HIV at GSK Biologicals.

The vaccine candidate was developed with a US$107.6 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to MVI.

GSK has invested approximately $300 million to date and expects to invest another $50-100 million before the completion of the project.

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