Experts Focus On RTS,S Malaria Vaccine

Oct. 1, 2010, 7:54 a.m.

Scientists and physicians from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday for the start of the second Malaria Vaccines for the World Conference, SAPA/News24 reports.

Christian Loucq, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), told conference attendees that there has been "a lot of progress in the development of a malaria vaccine." Loucq noted that the experimental RTS,S malaria vaccine has progressed to Phase III trials, which will test its safety and effectiveness of a large scale (9/29).

He also "urged investors from the public and private sectors who teamed up to help [fund the development of RTS,S] to keep investing in malaria research even after the first vaccine becomes reality," Agence France-Presse/Sydney Morning Herald reports. Loucq said additional funding will be needed to "protect the mosquito," explaining that the malaria parasite is transmitted to the mosquito when they bite an infected person.

"If you can effectively and widely prevent transmission from human to mosquitoes, you will prevent transmission of the disease. We believe that is our biggest hope for achieving our ultimate goal – eliminating malaria – but that's not going to happen before 2025," he said. "In the meantime, if we forget to keep investing in research we might, like we did in the '60s, once again lose the battle against malaria" (Zeitvogel, 9/29).

Colonel Christian Ockenhouse, director of the U.S. Military Malaria Vaccine Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), also discussed the RTS,S vaccine, calling the new phase of trials a major milestone, according to SAPA/News24. "Malaria is at the top of a list of infectious diseases that are 'important to the U.S. military,'" said Thomas Richie, also of WRAIR's malaria vaccine program. "'That's good for us but a sad tribute to this parasitic disease,' he said, adding that budget cuts could affect the U.S. military's research programme, which could in turn affect delivery of a vaccine," the news service writes. "We don't know what our funding will be over the coming years. If cuts are sustained, we will have to make cuts. And even in the absence of cuts to our budget, funding has not gone up in last couple of years. So we might have to make cuts anyway," Richie said.

Joe Cohen, a GlaxoSmithKline researcher who co-invented RTS,S, would not give an exact date for when the vaccine might be available. "We are all dreamers ... Hopefully we will eventually succeed but need to be realistic," he said. "In 2002, he predicted that a malaria vaccine would be ready for delivery in 2009," SAPA/News24 notes. "Sorry about 2009; I won't give you a new date," he said (9/29). "We believe we'll have the first data coming out of the trials in 2012, and, to make a long story short, we could have the first implementation in Africa between 2015 and 2016," he said, AFP/Sydney Morning Herald writes. He said current trials in Africa are going "very well."

He also had a general warning about funding. "The financial crisis has had a big impact on the package of money that's available," Cohen said. "Vaccines against other diseases that are ready to be implemented in Africa are being delayed because financing is not available," he said, adding that RTS,S could suffer a similar fate if the funding for a wide-scale launch is not available after the vaccine has successfully completed testing (9/29).

The Kaiser Daily Global Health Policy Report is published by the Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2010 Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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