Malaria Vaccine Going Global by 2015? Cuts Cases in Children by 50 Percent

A malaria vaccine could come to worldwide markets as early as 2015. British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is seeking approval for their drug, RTS,S, which in trials was able to significantly reduce the instance of malaria in children tested throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The malaria vaccine RTS,S has been in development for 30 years by GlaxoSmithKline in conjunction with non-profit Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Malaria kills 660,000 people per year worldwide, and GSK seems ready to combat the mosquito-borne virus with their latest drug.

"Based on these data, GSK now intends to submit, in 2014, a regulatory application to the European Medicines Agency (EMA)," the pharmaceutical company said in a statement. The World Health Organization would recommend the drug for use by 2015, if the EMA clear the drug.

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RTS,S is by no means a wonder-drug, however. In one of the largest clinical trials in Africa, 15,500 children in seven countries were involved in the testing of the drug. After 18 months of follow-up, researchers discovered that cases of malaria in young children were halved, with infants aged six to 12 weeks only being protected 25 percent of the time. In comparison, a control vaccine yielded protection 30 percent of the time.

Data from earlier in the trial revealed better levels of efficiency. RTS,S prevented malaria 65 percent of the time in babies, and 50 percent in young children. Over time, though, the efficiency significantly decreases, protecting children only 16.8 percent of the time after four years.

Still, any progress on fighting malaria brings hope to thousands or even millions of people.

"Many millions of malaria cases fill the wards of our hospitals. Progress is being made with bed nets and other measures, but we need more tools to battle this terrible disease," Halidou Tinto, who led the RTS,S trials in Burkina Faso, told Reuters.

Even if RTS,S is not the final answer to malaria, it could improve African children's chances against malaria along with other treatments and preventative care, which will continue well after 2015.

"The need for long-lasting insecticidal nets, rapid diagnostic tests and artemisinin-based combination therapies (anti-malarial drugs) will continue" even if RTS,S is made available worldwide, a WHO statement said.

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