Cure For Malaria Could Be On the Way

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Female mosquito taking a blood meal: Image via Wikipedia

Allison Mazzota (5 PM Micro) found this summary of a current vaccine approach for malaria. Currently,  malaria is responsible for 1 million deaths annually, and fully half of the population of the planet is at serious risk for infection.  The current model for control consists of wetland drainage and vector control, however global climate change may affect the efficacy of this control model over the next 50 years. Here is Allison to tell us about a new approach, taken from this article from the New York Times:

Malaria is a parasite that alters its shape as it makes its way between the liver and blood.  Each shape that the parasite becomes has varied surface proteins which makes it more difficult to make an effective vaccine against the parasite than it would be to make a vaccine against a virus.  However, GlaxoSmithKline has been working on a vaccine called RTS,S for over 25 years that has yielded encouraging results.  Clinical trials will be conducted through 2014 and will include more than 15,000 participants, but recent results showed that the vaccine protected 47 percent of 6,000 children ages 5 months to 17 months from severe malaria.

Vaccines are not usually released on the market until more than a 90 percent protection rate is reached. There is still work to be done, but these results could still save millions of people over the course of a decade, seeing as though malaria kills around one million people each year.  GlaxoSmithKline has spent over $300 million on the vaccine in works and plans to spend at least $100 million more.  Most of the support for this vaccine is coming from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the foundation is looking forward to the results of the 2014 trial to decide whether or not they would like to continue backing the vaccine.  A representative for the foundation has said that “any decision we make will be data-driven.”  If the vaccine actually makes it to the market, it will most likely be known as Mosquirix.  GlaxoSmithKline will set a price for the vaccine plus a 5 percent increase for poorer countries.  The 5 percent profit increase would be put back into malaria research.

There are a few other companies trying to out do Glaxo’s vaccine by targeting different surface proteins or experimenting with different ways of forcing the immune system to counterattack.  Some researchers have proposed the idea of combining several different methods into one shot or give consecutive shots of different methods to see if combinations work better than a single method.  The latter suggestion is “not currently in the works, but may be a possibility in the future,” says Doctor Christian Loucq, who is the director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which organized the RTS,S trials.

Some researchers are not holding their breath for a successful malaria vaccine, or one that will work for a long period of time.  This is because not even the “perfect natural vaccine”- surviving repeated rounds of malaria is effective.  Any acquired immunity to malaria will go away if a person vacates an area with a high rate of malaria for a period of a few years.  Also, malaria can quickly come back to infect a person as soon as control measures such as mosquito nets and DDT and newer artemisin- based drugs are no longer being effectively controlled and administered.  Hopeful still, GlaxoSmithKine will continue their trials as scheduled into 2014, and plans to up their 47 percent success rate and get Mosquirix onto the commercial market.

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About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on October 19, 2011, in Guest Post, Microbes in the News. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I really like the way that Plasmodium (the protozoan that causes malaria) is able to evade the immune system. There are a number of human parasites that essentially shed their coat, which is the part of the parasite that the immune system recognizes. What this means is that as soon as our bodies are able to mount an effective immune response (and hopefully clear the infection) the parasite changes the way it appears to the body, and the immune response is no longer effective. A chronic infection then ensues.

  2. Melissa Brosius

    I found this interesting as I’m traveling abroad over winter break and must take anti-malarial medicine. I don’t handle many medication very well and plan to travel frequently so it would certainly be nice if there were a cure! A one time vaccine would be much more convenient than day after day of pills.

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