Malaria is a disease which affects over 200 million people worldwide each year, resulting in nearly 600,000 deaths, many of which are child deaths and most of which (90%) are in Africa. A child in Africa dies every minute from malaria. Malaria costs the African continent over $12 billion each year. Almost half the world’s population, 3.2 billion people are at risk of getting malaria.
Mosquirix or RTS,S is the first malaria vaccine, and it has been in the pipeline for over 30 years, costing GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) over £360 million so far. This project has been backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The vaccine is almost ready to roll out after a 4 year clinical trial involving 15,500 babies and toddlers in Africa. The vaccine simply needs approval from health officials in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as an assessment from the World Health Organisation.
The vaccine works by stimulating an immune response when the malaria parasite enters the bloodstream after a mosquito bite. This can prevent the parasite from reaching and multiplying in the liver. Without the vaccine the parasite infects red blood cells and causes sweats, vomiting, fever, aching, headaches and nausea. It is sometimes fatal.
In April 2015, the Lancet Journal published the results of the Mosquirix trial showing only a partial protection from the parasite of 36% protection for children between 5-17 months, compared to 90% for most mainstream vaccines in vaccination programs. Overall the vaccine was about 30% effective after 3 doses and 1 booster, but the protection decreased fairly quickly over time.
Joe Cohen the lead scientist in the development of Mosquirix at GSK since 1987 said ‘it will have an enormously significant public health impact’ with the potential to save millions of lives. Andrew Witty CEO of GSK said the vaccine would provide ‘a very meaningful contribution’ in the fight against malaria. Although the vaccine doesn’t provide a full immunity and ‘It’s not good enough to stop transmission … it will cut the huge burden of disease’ said Brian Greenwood of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He added, ‘preventing some of those attacks is not insignificant’.