New advances in malaria vaccine with a little help from Bill Gates

A report published on Tuesday has indicated that a malaria vaccine will be partially successful in protecting children against the deadly disease. Bill Gates, the billionaire philanthropist who funded the research, described it as “a significant milestone in combatting the disease.”

Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline has said about the vaccine, “This vaccine will half the risk in young children who are less than 17 months old. It is this kind of work that GSK is doing that shows we care about health problems in the developing world as well.”

While clinical trials have shown great promise for the vaccine, more research is needed before it is known exactly how effective it will be. It is estimated that malaria kills around 800,000 people every year. The World Health Organisation has said that this is a reduction on the near 1 million deaths that were occurring 10 years ago.

It was just five years ago when Mr Gates stated that his ultimate philanthropic goal was to eradicate malaria. He has invested over $1.75 billion in combatting the disease. He also stated that this is just the first vaccine that has been developed, a second-generation vaccine is already in the pipeline and this should be even more effective at preventing the spread of the disease via the malaria parasite.

There are many drugs on the market that are used to prevent malaria, but the sheer cost of these makes their use in developing countries impossible. A vaccine is a much more cost-effective way of preventing malaria, especially in the long term.

It has been shown that vaccines can be effective against parasites, as well as bacteria and viruses as was previously known. The vaccine works by causing an immune response in the body to the parasite.

It has been in development since the 1980s and $500 million has been spent by the US government, GSK and the Gates foundation combined. Mr Gates also commented, “It has been shown to have a long-term effect of protecting 50% of people. This has the potential to save thousands of lives.”

The cost of the vaccine is currently unknown, but GSK have said that they intend to sell it at 5% above the production costs. The company also said that the profits from the vaccine will be used to research other vaccines for malaria  and other neglected diseases. Discussions will soon begin between donor groups and the drug company.

The most severe form of malaria can kill and this vaccine was found to reduce the chance of developing this type of malaria by nearly 50%. This was only found to be in the one specific age group and outside of that it was less effective. For example in children between five and 17-months old the vaccine was only found to be effective in one third of cases.

Nicholas White a Bangkok-based physician has said, “This vaccine is an incredible achievement, but it is only partially effective. There are also some significant side-effects which occurred in the test groups. Those taking the vaccine were much more likely to develop meningitis.” There are also some other problems with the vaccine, one of these is the logistical problem that it has to be kept cold. This can be a problem when distributing the vaccine in Africa.

If the vaccine makes it to market and donor buyers can be found then Glaxo said that it will probably manufacture the vaccine in low cost countries such as India or Africa. However, until the company knows the demand for the vaccine, it won’t know how much to produce.