Malaria is one of the most common illnesses in Africa, and it’s also very deadly. It kills about 1 million people every year, mostly children. One of the main reasons for this is because there is no effective vaccine yet to prevent malaria. However, that may change soon with a new vaccine called RTSS (RTS) -v-AS02A produced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). The company has just completed an initial study on 3,000 infants in seven African countries that shows promising results for this vaccine.
The vaccine works by combining the genetically modified parasites Plasmodium falciparum P. f with proteins normally found in hepatitis B virus called hepatitis B surface antigen, HBsAg. GlaxoSmithKline claims it can vaccinate children against malaria within one year. The vaccine is currently being tested on a bigger sample size of 15,000 children aged 5-17 months.
This is how the vaccine works: The parasite is introduced into a host, where it grows and multiplies in the liver before infecting red blood cells, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). RTS/AS02A teaches your body’s immune system to recognize the parasite and destroy it.
GlaxoSmithKline will obtain data from a second larger study of RTS,S in 5-17 month olds in Africa planned to start this year. The vaccine is proven to be 65 percent effective against severe malaria and 46 percent effective against the disease after six years of follow-up according to the interim results. The participants will be followed up for an additional four years, and those findings will be analyzed before making a decision on whether or not to make the vaccine available.
That’s the hope and potential of this vaccine: getting us to a world where we can break transmission and prevent deaths from malaria, said David C. Kaslow, vice president of product development at PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, a non-profit organization that helps develop malaria vaccines.
The vaccine is not perfect though it’s only about half as effective for children weighing between 5 and 10 kilograms (11 to 22 pounds) against severe malaria compared to those weighing over 10 kgs. Kaslow said that the vaccine will not be effective for older children and adults who already have immunity to malaria.
At this point, scientists believe that the vaccine works best in young infants because their immune systems haven’t yet had a chance to learn how to recognize and fight off parasites. Scientists are still working towards developing a perfect vaccine capable of protecting individuals from all strains and species of malaria, but this initial study brings us one step closer.