New malaria vaccine brings hope to Africa

Monday November 12 2012

By Yasiin Mugerwa

The word’s first wonder malaria vaccine is imminent after preliminary results from clinical trials in 17 African nations showed that the new RTS,S vaccine can effectively protect newborn Africans.

The results from trials categorised as Phase III, which were first released in South Africa and confirmed at a news conference in Nairobi on Friday, gives fresh hope in the fight against Malaria, a disease that kills 320 Ugandans every day, mostly pregnant women and children below five years.
The vaccine is expected to be available in the 2014/15 Financial Year.

Dr Patricia Njuguna, the RTS,S principal investigator, said compared to immunisation with a control vaccine, infants (6-12 weeks at first vaccination with RTS,S) had one-third fewer episodes of both clinical and severe malaria and had similar reactions to the injection.

“In this trial, RTS,S demonstrated an acceptable safety and tolerability profile,” Dr Njuguna, said. “We looked at the immune system responses to the new vaccine and we realised that the efficacy is lower than what we saw last year with the older 5-17 month age category, which surprised some of us at the African trial sites.”

Sir Andrew Witty, the head of GlaxoSmithKline, a global healthcare company, said: “We remain convinced that RTS,S has a role to play in tackling malaria and we will continue to work with our partners and other stakeholders to better understand the data and to define how the vaccine could best be used to provide public health benefit to children in malaria endemic areas in Africa.”

Speaking to journalists via teleconference, Dr Salim Abdullah, a principal investigator at the Ifakara Health Institute, Tanzania, said: “We’ve made progress in recent years in our battle against malaria but the disease is still killing 655,000 people a year, mainly children under five in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Daily Monitor understands that 11 African research centres in seven selected African countries are conducting this trial, together with GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, with grant funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Dr Chris Odero, the RTS,S site coordinator said the new vaccine was not intended to be used alone but will be used as an added tool.
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