The world’s first malaria vaccine, which is produced by GlaxoSmithKline, could be soon approved by international regulators for use in Africa. The vaccine could be administrated as soon as October after trial data revealed it gave partial protection for up to four years.
The vaccine, named RTS,S and is developed for children in Africa, will be the first licensed shot against the parasitic disease and could prevent millions of cases of malaria worldwide. The disease is responsible for more than 600,000 deaths a year.
Doctors have long hoped scientists would manage to develop an efficient malaria vaccine. Researchers at the British pharmaceutical giant GSK have been working on RTS,S for 30 years.
Expectations that this vaccine would be the final solution to eliminating malaria were lowered when trial data from 2011 and 2012 revealed it only cuts episodes of malaria in children aged 6-12 weeks by 27 percent, while babies aged 5-17 months showed a reduction of around 46 percent.
But the final stage data released in the Lancet journal on Friday revealed vaccinated children were protected four years after, even if it recorded a declining rate, which a crucial factor in the prevalence of the disease, while rates of protection were more powerful with a booster shot.
The researchers said an average 1,363 cases of clinical malaria were stopped over a period of four years for every 1,000 children who had been administered the shot, or 1,774 cases with a booster shot.
“Despite the falling efficacy over time, there is still a clear benefit from RTS,S. Given that there were an estimated 198 million malaria cases in 2013, this level of efficacy potentially translates into millions of cases of malaria in children being prevented,” Brian Greenwood, a professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine who worked on the study, explained.
GSK applied in July 2014 for regulatory approval by the European Medicines Agency for the new drug and is awaiting a decision in the next few months. If the company receives a license, the World Health Organization could recommend its usage starting by Octomber.
Experts say the vaccine will not be alone in the fight against malaria, like insecticide-treated bed-nets, and also rapid diagnostic tests and other anti-malarial drugs.
RTS,S was co-developed by the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and GSK, using funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
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