There is great disappointment at the results of the first major clinical trial of a possible malaria vaccine. It was only effective in 3 out of 10 cases when administered to African babies. There is now serious doubt as to whether it will be a useful weapon in the fight against this dreaded tropical disease say the chemical engineers at GSK, Glaxo Smith Kline, pharmaceutical.
The results came as surprise and big blow to GSK because they have been developing the vaccine for more than 30 years. They are now looking at an indeterminate number of more years to get to a preventive malaria medication, for those countries that suffer horrendously with the deadly infection.
Malaria, is carried by mosquitos. It is a disease from a parasite that causes the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people every year. The worst of it is that the deaths are mainly among infants in Africa. All hope of eradicating the disease lies with science and the development of a vaccine that actually works.
Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft turned philanthropist put a lot of money into the GSK malaria vaccine development. He is not giving up and says further research must be supported. In a statement, he says of the trial, “The efficacy came back lower than we had hoped, but developing a vaccine against a parasite is a very hard thing to do.”
The outcomes of this ‘in country’ trial was that 6,537 babies aged between six weeks, and three months were given the vaccine and had only “modest protection.” The number of incidences of malaria were cut by 3 in 10 when looked at side by side with immunization using a control vaccine. The measure of effectiveness for immunization programs like this is called the ‘efficacy rate’. It was sadly less than half of a previous trial where 65% of infants were still deemed to be protected half a year after receiving the inoculation. The efficacy rate is also less than half of that achieved in older children aged from 5 to 17 months.
It is still preferable to vaccinating infants, rather than older babies because the latest vaccines can then be included with other infant immunization programs. A new and additional program among older children is considerably more expensive. The verdict of immunologists on the GSK drug called RST, S or Mosquirix, is that it could eventually prove a useful, part but not a total solution.
The worse than hoped-for efficacy rate will worsen the cost-benefit analysis that health providers and backers will have to do before making a final decision as to whether the research is the best way to allocate limited funds. It is a blow, but the UK’s biggest pharmaceutical company has promised to press on with RST, S development in the belief that it will become an important weapon in the war on malaria. They have been researching for more than 30 years and have too much invested to give up now.
This is very admirable since GSK will not profit from this kind of vaccine. Malaria sufferers live in places where per capita income does not cover prescription charges or health insurance. If and when a viable version of RTS, S gets to market, it would carry a price tag of cost-plus 5%. The surplus would be used to fund ongoing research into malaria.