Malaria is a disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite, commonly transmitted by the female Anopheles mosquito. It is common in tropical areas such as sub-Saharan Africa, South America, and Asia, with Africa being the hardest hit. Preventive methods include mosquito nets or anti-malarial drugs; however, these measures are expensive, especially for the lower income population in developing countries. As a result, over half a million people, mostly children under the age of five, die from the effects of malaria per year.
GlaxoSmithKline, in collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recently announced the creation of the first approved malaria vaccine. The vaccine, known as RTS,S or Mosquirix and approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), will dramatically reduce the number of malaria-related deaths around the world. While the news is promising, it is important to note that it must be administered in three rounds to babies, thus raising the overall cost of vaccination. Furthermore, it is only 30% effective. The World Health Organization (WHO) set a target of a vaccine with a rate of 50% effectiveness with protection from the disease to last a year — meaning that Mosquirix is unlikely to fully wipe out malaria on the continent.
The ball is now in WHO’s court, which must give its approval before the drug reaching country-level scrutiny. During this process, a country’s medicine board must issue further recommendation for the drug before it can be used by its citizens. Such a process may mean that, if approved, Mosquirix may be available for use by 2017. However, as we await to see the results of Mosquirix, efforts in trying to establish a vaccine that could completely wipe out the malaria problem will continue.