Malaria vaccine that will prevent millions of young children catching disease could be available within months after trial results find it reduces number of cases by half 

  • Vaccine named RTS,S could be available by October, scientists believe
  • Will become the first approved vaccine for the world's deadliest disease
  • Designed for use in children in Africa, it can prevent up to half of cases
  • Experts hail 'extraordinary achievement' for British firm that developed it 

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, took 30 years to develop but it is now hoped it can be used to save millions of lives

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, took 30 years to develop but it is now hoped it can be used to save millions of lives

A new jab against malaria could prevent millions of cases, scientists claim.

Researchers say the vaccine, which has just completed the final stages of testing, could make a ‘substantial contribution’ to controlling the disease.

Drug firm GlaxoSmithKline has applied for a licence from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for the RTS,S vaccine.

The news is significant because RTS,S is the first malaria vaccine to reach advanced trials. Tests were carried out on 15,500 toddlers and babies in sub-Saharan Africa.

Among those who had three doses of RTS,S and a booster shot, the number of clinical cases of malaria – those confirmed by a doctor – was reduced by 36 per cent after four years.

But the protection waned over time, boosters worked less well than the initial dose and the vaccine was not as effective in younger children, a report in The Lancet journal says. Scientists have worked on the vaccine for more than 20 years – at a cost of more than £330million, but experts say there is a long way to go.

There is no licensed vaccine against malaria anywhere in the world and researchers say they are hopeful the results will be sufficient for RTS,S to gain a licence from the EMA.The World Health Organisation could then recommend its use by October this year. 

In the trials, an average of 1,363 cases of clinical malaria were prevented over four years for every 1,000 children vaccinated, and 1,774 cases in those who also received a booster. 

Over three years, an average 558 cases were averted for every 1,000 infants vaccinated, and 983 cases in those also given a booster dose.

Professor Brian Greenwood, the study’s author and professor of clinical tropical medicine at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Despite the falling efficacy over time, there is still a clear benefit from RTS,S.

‘Given that there were an estimated 198million malaria cases in 2013, this level of efficacy potentially translates into millions of cases of malaria in children being prevented.’

But he said he was ‘disappointed’ by the results of the clinical trials, adding: ‘I hoped the vaccine would be more effective, but we were never going to end up with the success seen in measles vaccines, with 97 per cent efficacy.’

The shot , which is designed to be used by children in Africa, could be approved by October, making it the first approved vaccine for the world's most deadly disease

The shot , which is designed to be used by children in Africa, could be approved by October, making it the first approved vaccine for the world's most deadly disease

The disease is difficult to treat because the malaria parasite has a complicated life cycle and has learned how to evade the human immune system over hundreds of years.

The latest World Health Organisation figures show that of the 198million cases in 2013, 584,000 people died. Most victims are children in Africa, where one dies every minute.

Currently, the most effective prevention measure is the use of mosquito nets. The trial involved 15,459 infants aged six to 12 weeks and children aged five to 17 months from Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

MALARIA: THE SCOURGE OF CENTURIES 

  • Only certain species of Anopheles mosquito can transmit malaria – and they must be female.
  • The disease plagued northern Europe for centuries when the climate allowed mosquitoes to thrive.
  • Scientists say it could return to Britain thanks to the increasingly warm weather and the fact that it can be spread by several native species.
  • Gin and tonic was created in the 1800s when gin was mixed with water and sugar to mask the bitter anti-malaria ingredient quinine.
  • The last British case was in 1953 in Stockwell, South London, possibly from mosquitoes in a stagnant water tank.
Bloodsucker: A mosquito. Only female mosquitos can transmit malaria

Bloodsucker: A mosquito. Only female mosquitos can transmit malaria

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