The malaria disease, one of the world's deadliest diseases, may have come to the beginning of the end. GlaxoSmithKline just applied for approval to test an experimental malaria vaccine, which would be the first of its kind.
Although malaria can be prevented with a series of pills, there is currently no vaccine. Glaxo has developed a vaccine called RTS,S. They are currently seeking approval to sell it outside of the European Union. This is part of the process of getting approval to sell the drug within the European Union.
This vaccine was developed specifically for children. The trial for Glaxo's malaria vaccine showed that it had the potential to lower malaria infections by 46% infants aged 5 to 17 months old, and by 27% in babies aged 6 to 12-weeks. Glaxo has spent the past three decades developing this vaccine. These numbers are not great, but it is still the most advanced drug currently put forward for prevention of malaria. Research showed that the vaccine worked a little better in older children but that it didn't last for very long.
The World Health Organization recognizes malaria as a major public health interest. According to the WHO, about half of the world's population, about 3.4 billion people, are at risk of developing malaria. The disease is most common in tropical climates. In 2012 the disease killed an estimated 627,000 people in developing countries, mostly in Africa. Sophie Biernaux, the head of Glaxo's malaria branch, said that the vaccine "brings us a step closer to making available the world's first vaccine that can help protect children in Africa from malaria." The company said that "an effective vaccine for use alongside other measures such as bed nets and anti-malarial medicines would represent an advance in malaria control."
In total, Glaxo has spent a lot of money investing in developing the vaccine, more than $350 million so far. In a statement, they said that they expect to spend at least another $260 million on it. They said that they would try to make it affordable for the poor, and that they plan to sell the vaccine at about a 5% profit. They would then plan to use that money to invest in further research on malaria. This is important, because countries where malaria is prevalent also have high rates of poverty, so it would be important to make it attainable for them to have.
Biernaux said, "This is a key moment in GSK's 30-year journey to develop RTS,S."