Malaria vaccine a letdown for infants

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SummaryAn experimental malaria vaccine once thought promising is turning out to be a disappointment, with a new study showing it is only about 30 percent effective at protecting infants from the killer disease.

the New England Journal of Medicine. The study is scheduled to continue until 2014 and is being paid for by GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

“The results look bad now, but they will probably be worse later,'' said Adrian Hill of Oxford University, who is developing a competing malaria vaccine. He noted the study showed the Glaxo vaccine lost its potency after several months. Hill said the vaccine might be a hard sell, compared to other vaccines like those for meningitis and pneumococcal disease _ which are both effective and cheap.

“If it turns out to have a clear 30 percent efficacy, it is probably not worth it to implement this in Africa on a large scale,'' said Genton Blaise, a malaria expert at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, who also sits on a WHO advisory board.

Eleanor Riley of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the vaccine might be useful if used together with other strategies, like bed nets. She was involved in an earlier study of the vaccine and had hoped for better results. “We're all a bit frustrated that it has proven so hard to make a malaria vaccine,'' she said.

“The question is how much money are the funders willing to keep throwing at it.''

Glaxo first developed the vaccine in 1987 and has invested $300 million in it so far.

WHO said it couldn't comment on the incomplete results and would wait until the trial was finished before drawing any conclusions.

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