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Human trials begin in malaria vaccine candidate

Sanaria, Inc. and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative announced this morning that their potential vaccine for malaria ready to start human trials as early as this May. The vaccine works like that of yellow fever or smallpox — injecting a small quantity of diseased parasite into the patient’s bloodstream, such that the body can develop ...

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South Sudanese children are educated on the use of a long-lasting insecticide-treated net (LLIN) in Wau, about 520 km northeast of Juba on April 2, 2009, where the population is exposed to malaria, a vector-borne, infectious parasitic disease that is a leading cause of death of infants and children in Africa. Some 4-10 billion US dollars is still needed to ensure the achievement of the universal coverage of more than 6 million people by 2010 according to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria who sponsor ongoing intervention programmes in south Sudan. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said on March 31, in a video message played at the start of a two-day meeting in Spain of key donors to the Global Fund that malaria cost Africa 12 billion dollars a year, but just 3.4 billion dollars is needed annually for prevention and treatment. AFP PHOTO / Tony KARUMBA (Photo credit should read TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Sanaria, Inc. and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative announced this morning that their potential vaccine for malaria ready to start human trials as early as this May.

The vaccine works like that of yellow fever or smallpox — injecting a small quantity of diseased parasite into the patient’s bloodstream, such that the body can develop antibodies ready to strike back if and when a real infection occurs. Sanaria have focused their vaccine efforts on Plasmodium falciparum, the most fatal and also most resilient species of the parasite. 

There are a number of candidate vaccines at the moment — most of which have an efficacy rate of around 50 percent. That’s enough to bring down mortality rates if even at-risk patients are given the vaccines. But as public health experts will no doubt point out, the hard part is getting that kind of comprehensive coverage. The rural health systems that are most burdened by malaria will find it difficult to support the kind of coordination that a vaccine scheme would require. 

Still, a vaccine would do wonders. Falcipurum in particular has built up confounding resistance to conventional treatments in recent years. Certainly, it will continue to do so as long as we have to keep treating — rather than preventing — infection. 

TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images

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