Vaccine science fires a big shot at malaria

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Exciting results from a final stage clinical trial of an experimental malaria vaccine reveal that African children s risk of contracting malaria after being vaccinated was reduced by half.

Called RTS,S or Mosquirix, the GlaxoSmithKline-developed shot was administered in three doses to half of a group of 6,000 five-to-17-month-olds in seven sub-Saharan African countries, while a control group received other vaccines and not the malaria vaccine.

After 12 months of follow-up, researchers found that the risk of clinical malaria among children fell by 56 percent while the risk of severe malaria decreased by 47 percent. Though the results were hopeful, scientists were quick to point out that the malaria vaccine is less effective against the disease compared to other immunizations against more common infections, such as measles, polio, and chickenpox, which have an efficacy rate of over 90 percent.

The study, just published in the New England Journal of Medicine, points out that, in addition to other measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying, rapid diagnostic tools, and combination anti-malaria drugs the vaccine could greatly contribute to the control of malaria, which killed over 700,000 people worldwide in 2009 alone.

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross believes that Mosquirix, if and when it is approved, would be a welcome addition to the fight against malaria, since not everyone uses insecticide-treated bed nets. Plus, you have people who avoid residual indoor spraying due to superstitions and fears that DDT causes adverse health effects, even though an abundance of scientific research has demonstrated just the opposite. He adds, And though the most effective anti-malarial therapy is a combination of artemisinin with other drugs (ACT), responses are often compromised due to a burgeoning market of counterfeit drugs in Africa.

In fact, one study has found that 35 percent of malaria drugs in Nigeria are fakes. Thanks to a new text message-based program just implemented by Sproxil Inc., however, the problem may begin to diminish. Working in tandem with Sproxil, large pharmaceutical companies have agreed to embed scratch-off panels on each of their drug packages. Customers can then text Sproxil with this number to confirm whether the drug is real or counterfeit.

This is both an intriguing and modern way to deal with the very serious problem of counterfeit medications, Dr. Ross observes.