Friday, June 5, 2009

Long time coming: malaria vaccine in phase III clinical trials

Woohoo...after hearing Dr. Helen McShane's musings on the long road to acceptance for vaccines, it's refreshing to hear a major vaccine inching closer to implementation. GlaxoSmithKline's RTS,S vaccine for malaria has been in development for more than twenty years; a combination vaccine which fuses a protein from the malaria parasite plasmodium falciparum and a surface antigen culled from the hepatitis B vaccine, it is one of the most advanced vaccines in development. And as of last week, it is finally entering phase III clinical trials, which is the final phase of development before the vaccine is sent for regulatory approval.

Tests began on May 26, when five infants in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, ranging from 5 to 17 months of age were inoculated with the RTS,S vaccine. The next few months will see a dramatic expansion to 16,000 children under the age of two in Africa, making it the largest trial of a malaria vaccine candidate ever executed. The hope is that the vaccine will confer lasting immunity to at least half of the children tested. If the trials are successful, the vaccine could be on the market by 2012.

This is a huge development in the fight against malaria, as no completely effective vaccine is available at this point in time. Even a partially effective vaccine would be an appreciated boost to alleviating the suffering caused by malaria across Africa; most of the 1 million under 5 years of age who die each year in Africa died from malaria-related causes. Yet the vaccine is still 3 years away, at least, and there is a lot of hope riding on this one -- it is the only malarial vaccine in development to get to phase III clinical trials. Here's hoping RTS,S delivers on its potential.

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-Andrew Plan

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