September 28, 2010

Scientists Kick Off Malaria Meeting In Washington

On Tuesday, scientists and doctors throughout the world kicked off a meeting in Washington today to discuss progress made in developing a vaccine against malaria, and the news is expected to be good.

"People are excited that we may finally have a vaccine that can be registered and in use in five years, and making a huge contribution to what has been an uphill battle for too long," Gwynne Oosterbaan, vice president of international consultants Global Health Strategies, told AFP news.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel," she said

The "RTS,S" malaria vaccine will be one of the stars at the meeting.  GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative developed the vaccine, with funding from the philanthropic foundation set up by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda.

The vaccine is in Phase III trials, which tests a vaccine's safety and efficacy on a large scale in seven African countries, including Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.  Enrollment is targeted to reach 16,000 children and infants.

Results of the Phase III trials showed that RTS,S was 53 percent effective against clinical falciparum malaria in young children, the most vulnerable to the mosquito-born illness.

The vaccine was up to 65 percent effective in infants.

The Malaria Vaccine Initiative said that if successful, the Phase III testing and licensing of the vaccine would make it a "first generation malaria vaccine that is at least 50 percent effective against severe disease and death, and that lasts more than one year."

"This vaccine has been 25 years in the making and it's taken people from all walks of life to pull it together to make it happen," Oosterbaan told AFP.

Christian Ockenhouse and Thomas Ritchie will be among the keynote speakers at the meeting, along with GSK researcher Joe Cohen, one of the inventors of RTS,S.

Over a third of the world's population is at risk of contracting malaria, a disease that kills about 900,000 people every year.  The falciparum strain of malaria is the most deadly form of the illness, which is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes.

The organizers of the Washington conference said that about 200 people die of malaria every hour of every day every year, most of them children in Africa.

They said that Malaria is one of the main obstacles to socio-economic development in Africa, and developing effective vaccines against the disease would have an enormous effect on reducing its negative impact.


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