Newborn Malaria Vaccine Disappoints
November 11, 2012

Disappointing Results For Newborns In Experimental Malaria Vaccine Study

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Less than one-third of newborns who received an experimental new vaccination against malaria were successfully protected from the potentially fatal disease, according to research presented Friday at a Vaccines for Africa conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

According to AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng, the three-shot vaccine, which is produced by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and is being tested in seven African nations, was found to be slightly over 30-percent effective in infants between the ages of six and 12 weeks.

"That is a significant drop from a study last year done in slightly older children, which suggested the vaccine cut the malaria risk by about half -- though that is still far below the protection provided from most vaccines," Cheng said.

Last year's trial showed the vaccine protected against detectable forms of the disease in slightly over half (56 percent) of five to 17-month old children, Seattle Times Health Reporter Carol M. Ostrom wrote on Friday. It was also found to prevent severe cases of malaria in 47 percent in that age group.

In comparison, the latest research, which is part of a continuing evaluation of the vaccination being conducted by GSK and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, was found to be 31 percent effective against detectable malaria, and 37 percent against the more serious strain of the disease, Ostrom said. The results of the study were published in Friday's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Jennifer Cohn of Doctors Without Borders, who was not involved in the study, told the AP the level of protection afforded by the vaccine was "unacceptably low."

Likewise, malaria expert Genton Blaise, a member of a World Health Organization (WHO) advisory board who is also affiliated with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, said at its current efficacy level, that it is "probably not worth" implementing the vaccine "on a large scale" throughout Africa.

"This is an important scientific milestone and needs more study," Bill Gates, who is supporting the study through his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, added in a statement, according to Ostrom. "The efficacy came back lower than we had hoped, but developing a vaccine against a parasite is a very hard thing to do. The trial is continuing and we look forward to getting more data to determine whether and how to deploy this vaccine."

The study is currently scheduled to continue until 2014, according to Cheng.