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A mosquito strikes (© Wellcome Trust)

Malaria vaccine – a ‘revolution in our time’

UK Chancellor Gordon Brown has stepped in to buy up significant stocks of a "revolutionary" new anti-malaria vaccine, to ensure it is available to developing countries at a reasonable cost.

An effective new vaccine has been developed and could be licensed by 2010, scientists say. But Gordon Brown was concerned for its future viability, since in this area of research there were "insufficient purchasers with funds". Anxiety had been expressed that poorer nations would not be able to afford the new vaccine.

"We need to ensure that the vaccine does go into commercial production and is available at affordable prices." Said the Chancellor. "And therefore the British Government, working with other governments, is ready to enter into agreements to purchase these vaccines in advance, to ensure a secure market and that the vaccines are available more cheaply." Britain expects to purchase between 200 million and 300 million doses.

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In trials, the vaccine was used to protect 2,022 children in Mozambique – cutting the risk of developing severe malaria by 58 per cent. "These are clearly the best results we have ever seen with a candidate malaria vaccine." said Professor Pedro Alonso from the University of Barcelona, who is working with drug company GlaxoSmithKline. "We are quite certain not only that the vaccine is safe... but that we have seen a clear efficacy."

The team tested the trial vaccine, called RTS,S/AS02A, on children aged between one and four years old in Mozambique, where malaria is widespread.

Each year in poor countries 500 million new cases are recorded – 90 per cent of them in Africa. Globally, up to three million people, die from malaria each year – under 5s are particularly at risk.

Professor Alonso said it would have been unrealistic to have expected the vaccine to prevent 100% of infections and that this was one of a range of preventative tools, including the use of insecticide treated bed nets which should be used in combination. However, he added, "We believe a malaria vaccine, even of moderate efficacy, could make a huge impact." Gordon Brown described the vaccine as a "revolution in our time".

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Preventing infection is especially important because resistance to anti-malarial drugs is a growing problem. Further trials will be needed to prove the vaccine is safe before a licence can be granted, but the researchers are hopeful this will happen by 2010.

The research was funded by GSK Biologicals and a global project, created through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to overcome barriers to malaria vaccine development – the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

More information
Malaria Vaccine Initiative
Roll Back Malaria

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