A malaria vaccine for children will be available by 2015. It’s no magic bullet but a significant step in the continent’s attempt to prevent its second greatest killer.
At a conference today in Nairobi more than 1500 medical specialists were told by scientists from GlaxoSmithKline (GKS) that the clinical trials of their RSS,S children’s malaria vaccine were now sufficiently successful to begin plans for commercial production.
Clinical trials of an earlier version of the vaccine (whose common name is Mosquirix) never achieved an efficacy greater than a 35-49, troubling as much by its variation as under low rating.
But the revised vaccine has reached a consistent 53 efficacy coefficient, which most scientists consider adequate for use in public health initiatives.
(GSK is also the owner/manufacturer of several currently used adult malarial prophylactics, including Malarone. Malarone remains the most widely used malaria preventative by tourists, and according to GSK has a efficacy coefficient of more than 90.)
The vaccine works only with very young children. Those in the worldwide trial groups are between 6 and 12 weeks old. It is a revolutionary vaccine as it is the first ever to target a complex parasite rather than a bacterium or virus.
There are no studies yet published to indicate once protected infants mature whether the vaccine will continue to work. Some skeptical critics fear that the public health burden of malaria will simply shift upwards in the age populations of Africa.
Nevertheless scientist are generally agreed this is a major achievement.
“There is enormous excitement at reaching this milestone,” Dr Joe Cohen, one of Mosquirix’s inventors said in prepared remarks at the Nairobi conference. “Just a few years ago the idea of a malaria vaccine entering final phase three trials would have been unthinkable. It’s a tremendous breakthrough.”
One of every five childhood deaths in Africa is due to malaria. A young child dies of malaria in Africa every 30 seconds. The group of scientists gathering today in Nairobi estimated that more than $12 billion in public health costs will be saved once the vaccine is regularly used.
The vaccine was actually first manufactured more than 20 years ago but has taken 20 years of careful reconstitution to reach an acceptable efficacy coefficient.
According to the World Health Organization:
• There are four types of human malaria: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae and Plasmodium ovale. More than 90 per cent of cases are caused by falciparum, the most destructive malaria parasite, found mainly in Africa.
• The common first symptoms — fever, headache, chills and vomiting — usually appear 10 to 15 days after a person is infected. If not treated promptly with effective medicines, malaria can cause severe illness and is often fatal
• The disease accounts for about 40 per cent of public health spending in sub-Saharan Africa.