ASTRAZENECA DEVELOPS MALARIA VACCINE
The end of malaria is one step closer as the team behind the Oxford-astrazeneca vaccine has developed the first jab against the mosquito-borne disease to show more than 75 per cent efficacy.
Scientists at Oxford University's Jenner Institute have published preliminary results from a phase two trial with 450 children in Burkina Faso showing the vaccine — called R21 — is 77 per cent effective against malaria.
This is the first vaccine to achieve such a high efficacy rate against a disease that kills roughly 400,000 people in sub-saharan Africa every year.
The Serum Institute of India — which is manufacturing the Oxford-astrazeneca vaccine — has agreed to produce 200 million doses a year as soon as the jab gains approval. Researchers hope this means the vaccine will be available at a large scale and low cost.
The only other malaria vaccine to have shown promise is the RTS,S jab, produced by Glaxosmithkline, which showed 50 per cent efficacy in late-stage trials. This vaccine has been through phase three clinical trials but has not been fully licensed because of safety concerns and is currently being administered in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana as part of a World Health Organization-led pilot program.
A second vaccine would be a huge boost to efforts to eliminate malaria, which have stalled in recent years. There are effective preventive measures such as bed nets, indoor spraying and preventive drugs, though a lack of funding means these do not always get to those who need them.
In this latest trial, children aged five to 17 months were given the R21 vaccine in three doses, a month apart, with a booster dose 12 months later.
Adrian Hill, the director of the Jenner Institute, hailed the promising clinical results and the partnership with the Serum Institute.
“There are about 13 million children born each year in various areas of Africa that could really benefit from the malaria vaccine. There are three doses per schedule and a booster dose so 200 million is a very good number,” he said.
The vaccine is about to enter phase three trials in 4,800 children in Africa. Early phases of testing involved so-called challenge trials where volunteers in the U.K. were given the vaccine and then bitten by malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
Researchers have been working on malaria vaccines for more than 100 years but they have been notoriously difficult to develop. This is partly due to the fact the disease is seasonal — 90 per cent of deaths occur three to four months after the rainy season — so it is important to give vaccines at the right time.