Start Of A Malaria Vaccination?
SEATTLE, Oct. 18, 2011 (Reuters) — For Joe Cohen, a GlaxoSmithKline research scientist who has spent 24 years trying to create the world's first malaria vaccine, Tuesday, October 18, 2011 goes down as a fabulous day.
"There were many ups and downs, and moments over the years when we thought 'Can we do it? Should we continue? Or is it really just too tough?," he told Reuters, as data showing the success of his RTS,S vaccine were unveiled at an international conference on malaria.
"But today I feel fabulous. This is a dream of any scientist -- to see your life's work actually translated into a medicine ... that can have this great impact on peoples' lives. How lucky am I?"
Final stage clinical trial data on RTS,S, also known as Mosquirix, showed it halved the risk of African children getting malaria, making it likely to become the world's first successful vaccine against the deadly disease.
While scientists say it is no "silver bullet" and will not end the mosquito-borne infection on its own, it is being hailed as a crucial weapon in the fight against malaria and one that could speed the path to eventual worldwide eradication.
Malaria is caused by a parasite carried in the saliva of mosquitoes. It kills more than 780,000 people per year, most of them babies or very young children in Africa.
Cohen's vaccine goes to work at the point when the parasite enters the human bloodstream after a mosquito bite. By stimulating an immune response, it can prevent the parasite from maturing and multiplying in the liver.
Without that immune response, the parasite re-enters the bloodstream and infects red blood cells, leading to fever, body aches and, in some cases, death.
Although Cohen's scientific work has been largely in Belgium, where he runs a GSK laboratory, the final-stage trials of RTS,S were conducted in Africa, where malaria hits hardest.
With GSK working in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), the trials became Africa's largest-ever medical experiment as the vaccine was tested in around 16,000 children across seven countries.
Cohen said that if all goes to plan, RTS,S could be licensed and rolled out by 2015.