RTS S is the most promising malaria vaccine in 20 years...
A vaccine for malaria, a disease which kills between 1 to 3 million people a year, maybe available within the next five years.
Extensive trials carried out in Africa suggest the new vaccine, known as RTS,S, provides significant protection for infants and young children.
The latest trials in Kenya and Tanzania, have shown for the first time that the vaccine can be administered as part of the standard immunization programme without interfering with other vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and meningitis, and still provide protection.
Trials in Gambia and Mozambique also proved its efficiency in adults and babies. The results have been the most promising to emerge from over 20 years of research into developing a vaccine for the disease.
A final trail involving thousands of children across Africa is planned for next year. More successful results could lead to the mass production of RTS,S. Researchers now have high hopes that the vaccine will become an effective weapon against malaria. This could provide a cheap and easy way to deliver a malaria vaccine across Africa.
Malaria affects more than 500 million people every year, most of these cases occur in the developing world.
The disease is caused by a parasite transmitted through the bite of a female anopheles mosquito. Around 90% of all malaria related deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, making this fatal disease the number one killer of children under the age of 5 in this region.
In the Tanzania trail, the vaccine reduced the number of malaria infections by up to 65% in babies under one, the age group most susceptible to the disease.
Separate trials in Kenya and Tanzania, involving around 900 children aged 5 to 17 months, found that another version of the vaccine reduced cases of malaria requiring hospital treatment by 53 per cent.
The vaccine is manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), with funding from Bill and Melissa Gates. The results were presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in New Orleans.
Christian Loucq, director of the MVI, said:
“The study results strongly show that our investments in developing malaria vaccines are beginning to pay dividends. We are closer than ever before to developing a malaria vaccine for children in Africa…
“History has shown that vaccines are the most powerful tool to control and eliminate infectious disease. Clearly the world urgently needs a safe and effective vaccine to win the war against this terrible disease.”
In light of the recent results, critics of the project who had previously been opposed to the final large-scale trial may now have answer that ease their fears.
Simon Draper, a researcher on malaria vaccines at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, said:
“This latest result shows we are getting there step by step. The vaccine RTS,S is the leading candidate and has shown a measure of efficacy in children. On the malaria vaccine we are slowly beginning to win.”
Despite the promising results, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine says further trials are necessary with the vaccine in areas where malaria transmission is more intense. It says the vaccine is the first to reach such an advanced stage of development, adding:
“It is, indeed, a hopeful beginning.”
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