In infants, data has shown for the first time that the vaccine candidate can be administered as part of existing African national immunization programme. In children aged 5 to 17 months, the candidate RTS,S/AS01 reduced the risk of clinical episodes of malaria by 53% over an 8-month follow-up period and was shown to be safe.
The studies, conducted in Kenya and Tanzania, were this week presented at the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene annual meeting.
Although largely under control in South Africa, malaria has devastated many countries in sub-Saharan Africa specifically targeting children under five whose immune systems are not fully developed.
World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics reveal that about 1-million people die from malaria each year with 90 percent of these cases recorded in 35 sub-Saharan African countries.
Over 250-million cases of malaria are recorded every year and in some countries a quarter of those infected will die before they reach the age of five.
In any sub-Saharan African countries malaria accounted for half of all hospital admissions and hospital costs. The cost of malaria in Africa is around US$30-billion with the costs at economic level devastating due to people being off sick.
RTS,S/AS is the leading candidate vaccine in a global effort to develop a malaria vaccine and it is expected that the candidate will now go to phase III trials in 2009.
‘The vaccine works alongside standard infant vaccines of WHO’s Expanded Program of Immunisationn, has a favorable safety profile, and has consistently shown a significant efficacy level. We can begin to foresee the difference this scientific breakthrough could make in the lives of millions of African children who suffer and die from this disease year after year,’ said Joe Cohen, a co-inventor of the vaccine and vice-president at GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals.