Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Final round of testing for new malaria vaccine

A new malaria vaccine enters it's final stage of testing. The vaccine could cut in half the number of malaria deaths each year.

GlaxoSmithKline has been developing the vaccine, and it may be provided for free if there is enough funding from sources such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization and others.

From the Associated Press, writer Jason Straziuso gives us plenty of hope in this story.

There is new hope, however, in this verdant area where President Barack Obama's relatives live. A vaccine that appears to be able to prevent the disease in about 50 percent of children, is now undergoing the final stage of testing.

If regulators determine the vaccine is safe, it could be on the market in three to five years — the first vaccine against a human parasite.

Tens of millions of Africans are plagued by malaria every year, and more than a third of the hospital beds in this rural Kenyan region next to Lake Victoria are dedicated to its victims. More than 1 million children die of the disease in Africa annually, a crippling economic drain that prolongs a cycle of disease and poverty throughout the continent.

Malaria is also prevalent in parts of Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America.

This vaccine was developed specifically for Africa and will only prevent the African strain of the disease. Experts say it would be a historic advancement.

"Some may say, '50 percent, that's not great.' And that's true. If you get a measles vaccine, you're not going to get measles again," said Dr. Dave Jones, a U.S. Army colonel and director of a clinic in nearby Kombewa operated by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

More than $500 million has been spent on the combined efforts by drug maker GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Phase III testing is being done at 11 sites in seven African countries on 16,000 children under the age of 18 months.

The goal is to immunize children against malaria during their youngest high-risk years, and then for them to develop their own natural immunities as they age.

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