Experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine today described the results of a malaria vaccine trial as “encouraging” but do not yet provide all the answers.
The latest findings from the major international study being carried out in Africa reveal that the RTS,S vaccine reduced severe and uncomplicated malaria by a third in young infants given the vaccine in the first few months of life together with their routine vaccines. The vaccine was safe and well tolerated.
According to scientists trying to tackle malaria, the new research – which analysed the effect of the vaccine on 6,000 children under 17 months old studied in 11 centres in seven countries across Africa – is important as administration of the malaria vaccine would be helped if it could be given together with other routine vaccines. RTS,S is being developed through a partnership led by GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The School, which has a long heritage in malaria research and is home to the Malaria Centre, has the largest number of malaria researchers, students and support staff in Europe. It supports several aspects of malaria vaccine development ranging from laboratory research to complex field trials.
“The results among young infants demonstrate what added benefit the RTS,S malaria vaccine could provide over and above the tools currently available for routine use in malarious areas.”
Professor Sir Brian Greenwood, who contributed to the project and is one of the co-authors of the New England Journal of Medicine paper detailing the results, said: “These results are encouraging because they show that the RTS,S vaccine is partially protective in young infants who have an immature immune system.
“The level of protection found in these young infants was less than had been expected.
“A future, planned analysis of whether there were differences in the level of protection at different centres, each with its own pattern of malaria may help to explain why this was the case.”
Professor Eleanor Riley, an immunologist who contributed to earlier phases of the RTS,S project, said: “We have known for a long time that the vaccine is partially, but not completely, effective and that it would need to be deployed alongside a range of other malaria prevention measures (such as insecticide treated bed nets, for example).
“These data confirm that the vaccine is potentially useful in significantly reducing the risk of malaria but that it is not the complete solution.”
The results were presented today at the International African Vaccinology Conference in Cape Town and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. They will also be discussed at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference in Atlanta, US, on Monday 12 November. More than 50 staff and students from the School will be presenting research at the conference on various aspects of tropical medicine and public health.
Today’s results come after the first, interim results of the Phase 3 trial, published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that the vaccine halved the number of malaria cases in children given the vaccine when aged between 5 and 17 months in the absence of any other vaccination.
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