A UK drug company, GlaxoSmithKline, is seeking regulatory approval for RTS,S, the world’s first malaria vaccine. Created in 1987, the vaccine has been almost 30 years in the making, and if approved will be available as soon as 2015. Although trials have shown the vaccine is only able to reduce the incidence of malaria, even partial efficacy will help to greatly reduce the number of deaths caused by this devastating disease.
Malaria is a parasitic disease carried by mosquitoes that kills upwards of 600,000 people every year. Those most at risk are infants living in sub-Saharan Africa. Currently there is no vaccine on the market that provides immunity against malaria. The medication available can have some rather unpleasant side effects, and the ones that don’t are prohibitively expensive. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding cannot take the medication, and drug-resistant strains of malaria are popping up in different areas.
The vaccine does not provide immunity, but reduces the occurrence of malaria by roughly 30%. An 18 month study showed a 46% prevention rate in children aged 5 to 17 months, and 34% in severe cases. According to Mary Hamel, medical epidemiologist at the U.S. CDC, most vaccines aim to be at least 80-90% effective. However, she says that with rates of malaria so high in sub-Saharan Africa, even a modest efficacy can have a substantial impact. When used in combination with other measures such as bed nets, RTS,S could help to significantly reduce the incidence of malaria-related deaths in infants in the area.
GSK has promised to provide the vaccine at cost, with a 5% margin that will be reinvested into further research on malaria and other tropical diseases.
Images courtesy of Malaria Nexus.com, Belle News.com, and Le Gabon.org.