Friday, December 12, 2008

Malaria Vaccine on the Horizon?

Maybe. Every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria (source). The annual death toll is approximately 1 000 000 deaths. The latest issue of Science has a "News of the Week" piece on the vaccine clinical trials. Here is a sample:

The most advanced candidate vaccine for malaria has cleared another major hurdle and is now ready for its last and biggest test: a phase III trial of 12,000 to 16,000 children at 11 locations in seven African countries. Two new studies published this week by The New England Journal of Medicine--and presented, to considerable excitement, at a meeting* here on Monday--confirm that the vaccine works and is safe, and, perhaps most important, they show it can be given along with a series of other vaccines that many babies in the developing world receive shortly after birth.

The vaccine, called RTS,S, is far from perfect: It appears to prevent roughly half of all clinical episodes of malaria at best. But researchers believe that's good enough to help make a major dent in the disease, especially when applied in tandem with other tools, such as long-lasting insecticide-impregnated bed nets and a new generation of drugs called ACTs. And they're encouraged by the fact that trial outcomes so far have been consistent. After a "long history of sob stories" in malaria vaccine development, "this seems like a solid vaccine, study after study," says Christopher Plowe of the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine Development in Baltimore.

This is a timely report given the tenor of my post yesterday about the importance of science.