WASHINGTON — The world’s first malaria vaccine may finally be within reach.
Scientists and public health officials are optimistic about recent news that a malaria vaccine candidate was able to reduce the risk of malaria by half in young African children in the first results of a Phase III trial. In 2009, malaria caused an estimated 781 000 deaths, mostly among African children, according to the World Health Organization.
The preliminary results of the trial, conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, were published online in the New England Journal of Medicine on Oct.18.
Known as RTS,S/AS01, the vaccine candidate has been in development since the 1980s and was initially developed as a result of work done by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) and GSK have been studying the vaccine candidate’s ability to protect young children in sub-Saharan Africa with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Phase III trial was launched in 2009 and has been conducted at 11 trial sites in seven countries across sub-Saharan Africa, including the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit Kenya. The trial indicated that three doses of RTS,S reduced the risk of children experiencing clinical malaria and severe malaria by 56% and 47%, respectively. This portion of the study included 6,000 children aged 5 to 17 months, who were followed over a 12-month period following vaccination.
In addition, preliminary analysis of severe malaria episodes in the 15,460 infants and children enrolled in the trial, age 6 weeks to 17 months of age, showed 35% efficacy over a follow-up period ranging between 0 and 22 months. All results are expected to be available by the end of next year.
“The RTS,S/AS01 study results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, are a promising advance in development of a malaria vaccine for African children, which, if successful, could save hundreds of thousands of lives,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, in a written statement.
CDC, in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute, led the trial at one site in western Kenya. “In 2009, malaria caused the deaths of nearly 800,000 people; approximately 90% were children in Africa.”