​Malaria Vaccine Setback Following New Research

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November 10, 2012

A malaria vaccine that was supposed to help combat the deadly disease is facing its first setback after health experts questioned whether it can be useful. This information comes after the vaccine proved to be only 30 percent effective in African babies.

The surprisingly poor result for the drug, which GlaxoSmithKline has been developing for three decades, leaves several years of work ahead before a protective malaria shot could be ready for countries that desperately need one.

Malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease, kills hundreds of thousands a year, mainly babies in Africa, and scientists say an effective vaccine is key to hopes to eradicate it.

Philanthropist Bill Gates, who helped fund the GSK vaccine’s development, said further research was now needed to see whether and how it might be used.

“The efficacy came back lower than we had hoped, but developing a vaccine against a parasite is a very hard thing to do,” he said in a statement.

Results from the final-stage trial with 6,537 babies aged six to 12 weeks showed the vaccine provided “modest protection,” reducing episodes of the disease by 30 percent compared to immunization with a control vaccine, researchers said on Friday.

That efficacy rate a year after vaccination is less than half the 65 percent in an earlier trial in babies which analyzed protection rates after six months. It is also a lot less than the 50 percent rate seen in five to 17 month-olds.

Vaccinating babies, rather than toddlers, is the preferred option, since the new vaccine could then be added to other routine infant immunizations. A separate program for older children would involve a lot of extra costs.Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the results showed that GSK’s vaccine, called RTS,S or Mosquirix, is potentially useful, but “not the complete solution”.

“The slightly lower than expected efficacy will … affect the cost-benefit analysis that health providers and funders will have to undertake before deciding whether the vaccine represents the best use of limited financial resources,” she said.