The world’s first vaccine against malaria has been approved by the European Medicines Agency after more than 30 years of research.
The ‘Mosquirix’ vaccine was given the green light on Friday, much to the delight of scientists across Africa.
The vaccine will now be examined by the World Health Organisation and, if approved, could be administered to children across Africa within the next few years.
Allan Pamba, vice president for pharmaceuticals in East Africa for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said:
It’s massively significant. Malaria has been incredibly difficult to crack. It’s been tremendously frustrating. But we are all immensely proud to have reached this milestone.
GSK has spent more than $356 million (£230m) to date on finding a vaccine, and they are expected to invest another $200-$250 million on the project until development is completed.
The new vaccine – whose scientific name is ‘RTS,S’ – is designed to prevent the parasite from infecting, maturing and multiplying in the liver, after which time the parasite would re-enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells, leading to disease symptoms.
The developers carried out a trial programme involving more than 16,000 young children, conducted by 13 African research centres in eight African countries – Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania.
Two groups of children were tested – babies aged 6-12 weeks, and infants aged 5-17 months.
Data from the trial programme demonstrated that over the first 18 months following three doses of the vaccine, malaria cases were reduced by almost half in the older group and by 27% in the younger group.
An estimated 600,000 people die from malaria each year so the vaccine could be a complete game-changer, and health ministers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new medicine. Let’s hope everything goes to plan and this can be implemented across Africa (and around the world) as soon as possible!