Experimental Malaria Vaccine Shown to be Effective

Researchers have announced the results of a successful experimental malaria vaccine trial. The vaccine, named RTS,S, was developed through a partnership between global health nonprofit PATH and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other public and private partners. Trial findings were revealed at the Gates Foundation Malaria Forum in coordination with publication in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Study results demonstrated that a three-dose vaccination halved the risk of malarial infection and decreased the chances of becoming life-threateningly ill by 47%. The trial involved 15,000 children in 11 sites across sub-Saharan Africa.

Analysis of the vaccine’s capabilities suggests that the vaccine is 35% effective after 2 years, or partially protective. Researchers argue, however, that having a moderately effective malaria vaccine is better than no vaccine at all, especially given the prevalence and severity of malaria infection worldwide; a malaria vaccine of that effectiveness could still prevent malaria infections in tens of thousands of children each year and save many lives. Although a full investigation of the vaccine’s ability to provide long-term protective effects will not be completed until the end of 2014, these initial findings are very promising.

Vasee Moorthy, MD, PhD, of the World Health Organization called these findings a “major scientific achievement” that “if licensed … would be the very first human vaccine against a parasitic disease.”

The success of PATH and GSK’s work also speaks to the strength of product development partnerships as an innovative public-private sector business model that deserves more attention as an effective vehicle to combat global health threats.

“This trial represents a powerful example of the high-quality science that is moving us toward controlling and someday even eradicating malaria,” said PATH President and CEO Christopher Elias, MD, MPH.

GSK will sell the vaccine at 5% over its production cost, with all proceeds going to fund additional research for a second-generation malaria vaccine. The vaccine could be available as early as 2015.

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