Vaccine Halves the Risk of Malaria
The path to a viable malaria vaccine is a step closer with the publication of interim results of a vaccine trial conducted in 11 sites in sub-Saharan Africa. The vaccine trial, known as RTS,S, recruited over 15,000 infants, and comprised a broad collaboration between academics, industry and government partners under the guidance of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The trial found the majority of its funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Bill Gates, co-chair of the Foundation, commented that “A vaccine is the simplest, most cost-effective way to save lives. These results demonstrate the power of working with partners to create a malaria vaccine that has the potential to protect millions of children from this devastating disease”.
These results refer to reductions in malaria risk for 6,000 children aged 5 to 17 months in the 12 months after vaccination. After 3 vaccinations, the trial showed 56% reductions in risk of clinical malaria and 47% reductions for severe disease. Malaria risk reductions were additional to the protection from use of bed nets, and while impressive, it is clear that even by halving the risk of malaria, this vaccine alone will not control the disease. Other interventions will continue to be necessary if, and when, this malaria vaccine is licensed for use. Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), who produced the vaccine, added that “the addition of a malaria vaccine to existing control interventions such as bed nets and insecticide spraying could potentially help prevent millions of cases of this debilitating disease”.
Malaria is a disease which has continued to challenge the health of vulnerable children mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and news that RTS,S steps closer to becoming a licensed vaccine is welcome. The cost of this potentially viable malaria vaccine has been considered as an integral part of vaccine development. GSK emphasizes its commitment to ensure that a licensed RTS,S malaria vaccine will reach poor and vulnerable individuals, with assurance from Witty that “GSK remains committed to further research into malaria and most importantly, to ensuring that this vaccine will reach those who need it”.
Over recent years, there has been increased emphasis on addressing malaria as an important public health challenge. Tsiri Agbenyega, a principal investigator of the trial and Chair of the Clinical Trials Partnership Committee, said that “Renewed interest in malaria by the international community, and scientific evidence such as that we are reporting today, should bring new hope that malaria can be controlled.”
The infection, caused by a parasite transmitted from the bite of an infected mosquito, continues to kill an estimated 781,000 people, and cause 255 million illnesses, each year. However, year on year, reductions in the burden of disease have been reported. With continued successful control and new tools to prevent malaria, the RTS,S vaccine results bolster hopes that the disease could, within decades, be eradicated.
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