An effective malaria vaccine!

This is amazing – a (partially) effective vaccine for malaria. The full scholarly article on the Phase 3 clinical trial is here. In short, the vaccine reduced the incidence of malaria amongst vaccinated children by about half.

It’s not a panacea, but an incredible achievement nonetheless. Malaria is caused by parasites in the Plasmodium family rather than a virus or bacteria; this is apparently the first effective vaccine against a parasite-induced disease.

Whether the vaccine in its present form is effective enough to warrant mass vaccinations has not yet been determined; cost may also be another barrier to wide deployment. GlaxoSmithKline, the drug company developing the vaccine, has promised to sell the vaccine essentially at cost to developing countries.

Some useful global context is provided by the Guardian Data blog that shows that the majority of the tens of millions of cases of malaria every year occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria rates, and especially deaths, are trending down; a vaccine that protects the most vulnerable – young children – could reduce those numbers further.

I dips me lid.

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24 responses to “An effective malaria vaccine!”

  1. Roger Jones

    Excellent – and I was curious, so I went to the acknowledgements

    Supported by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (GSK) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Now, how can we get some of the 1% in Australia with deep pockets to reach in and …

  2. BilB

    As a kid we had quinine tablets. As an adult I use Gin and Tonic (quinine being in the tonic). With Global warming driving those malaria carrying mozzies ever closer the idea of a real protection is a comforting idea.

    I only hope that it does not get the usual corrupt political workover, ie one tablet between four kids so that wealthy people do not have to pay for them, or more likely so that corrupt bueraucrats can sell them on the side for profit.

  3. Aidan

    Well done Bill Gates, (almost) all is forgiven.

  4. David Irving (no relation)

    Wonderful news! (Although I, for one, won’t be giving up gin and tonic any time soon. Even though Adelaide is hardly malaria country.)

  5. sg

    Bill Gates has made some excellent points about vaccination and corruption that are well worth reading, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatin prioritize vaccination spending over all else. I’ve no doubt once polio is eradicated (they’re hoping to do it by 2015) malaria will be next on the list.

    It’s worth remembering that even only partially effective vaccines can have a signifciant population benefit. I think there has been a lot of research in influenza that shows even quite poor effectiveness can have a population effect beyond just preventing disease in those directly vaccinated. It could be that partially effective vaccination plus prophylactic spraying will have a huge combined effect.

  6. Chumpai

    @ 6

    sg that’s a great point.

    So 50% of the population the mosquito feeds on won’t have the parasite. If it does have the parasite there is a 50% chance the next victim is immune. It could seriously inhibit the spread of the disease.

    If it stops cerebral malaria then even the death rate will drop dramatically.

    One other thing. This vaccine is against P. falciparum . For the Asian region P. vivax is the main species so we need a vaccine for that too.

  7. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    That’s superb news in two ways: A vaccine against Malaria, and the first time there’s a vaccine against a protista-born disease. Ya cheered me up, Robert.

  8. sg

    Another very good point to bear in mind is that malaria is transmitted by two hosts (mosquito and human) so you can produce a partially effective vaccine for the human host, and still have room to apply a partially effective vaccine to the mosquito host, in addition to applying prophylactic methods to reduce infection. So unlike, say, polio, where eradication requires a single extremely effective vaccine and very high coverage, you can develop two weaker ones and then also apply spraying.

  9. Occam's Blunt Razor

    Obviously the US Government should have taxed Gates much much more becaus being a Billionaire like that is just immoral and probably amoral . . . oh, wait . . .

  10. tssk

    Occam. Not every billionaire is Gates.

    And you might of missed his amazing “Dr Evil” malaria speech at Ted where he bought onstage a transparent jar full of mozzies and then to the ‘surprise’ of the crowd opened it up with the words ‘Not only poor people should experience this.’


  11. sg

    Occam, you really have nothing positive to contribute to any thread you join.

  12. tssk

    More respect sg, he’s obviously part of the 1%!

  13. GregM

    sg, quite right. I understand that work is being done on a vaccine which, while administered to humans, has its effect during that part of the malaria protozoas’ lifecycles when they are in mosquitoes. And if you also factor in artemisinin as an effective treatment (at least for a while before immunity is developed to it) there is a lot of reason to hope that with a lot of effort we could see malaria going out the back door as smallpox has and, hopefully, polio will. Then on to TB where bad trouble is brewing with drug resistant strains.

  14. Occam's Blunt Razor

    sg – you think I should just accept the tripe? I should conform? Everything written on here is beyond question and perfect in every way? I should be absorbed into the hive-mind?

    I am obviously completely wrong, flawed and have no idea what I am talking about and any contribution by me is completely and totally without value or merit.

    Have I missed anything?

  15. Chris

    Hopefully they have not patented the vaccine or will license it for free – so countries that have the technology to manufacture it themselves can do so.

  16. sg

    gregM, aren’t CSL also working on some kind of chemical that targets the mosquitos reproductive behavior? I guess most people are thinking a mixture of techniques involving attacking both hosts, the environment and the parasite all at once is the best idea.

    Occam, for every cashed-up one percenter who is working to make the world a better place, there’s another one (like the Kochs) who is funding attempts to make it worse. Gates’s work is great, but it is almost always done in conjunction with governments and the NGO aid sector (he funds other people’s implementation programs, mostly) and his behavior is no proof that the corporate world is universally good.

    But then no one here is arguing that the corporate world is universally bad. Which is why your contribution to this thread is completely worthless.

  17. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    Occam: people are getting sick of the snowclone “Obviously” + [collective viewpoint falsely assumed to be held of the LP readership trumped by current events] + “… oh, wait…” stunts you pull every now and then. It’s a bad habit of yours, and I’d wish you cut it out. It’s so stale that I reckon there are rations left over by Mawson in the Antarctic that are fresher than that.

    sg: how does one apply a vaccine to a mosquito host without killing it?

  18. John D

    Bill Gates has been funding some very promising stuff on dengue fever in Australia.

    The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation provided most of the $18 million for a world-first experiment to control the spread of dengue fever in the Far North.
    The project is a massive international collaboration between research institutions in Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, the US and Brazil.
    The Cullingtons’ leafy front yard was ground zero for the release of hundreds of mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacteria that has been proven to block mozzies from infecting people with the potentially fatal virus.
    There may not yet be a proven human vaccine against dengue fever, but scientists have created a dengue vaccine for the mozzies.

    The US does have a strong tradition of the seriously rich using their money to do things that benefit society. However, as Warren Buffet points out this should not be an excuse for undertaxing the rich.

  19. GregM

    sg: how does one apply a vaccine to a mosquito host without killing it?

    D&O I think that I raised that idea and so I should answer your question.

    As I recall the article I read the idea was that the vaccine injected into humans would not have enough time to raise an immune response to the malaria protozoon when a human was injected by the malaria carrying mosquito but that the mosquito would carry away enough human blood (necessary for the next step in the protozoon’s development) and incubate it for enough time for the immune response to express itself while the protozoon is in the mosquito’s gut, killing the protozoon off then.

    Bear in mind that malaria is a parasite to a mosquito just as, and more so than, it is a parasite on us. For us malarial infection is serious and sometimes fatal. For a mosquito it is also a parasite and infection by it is always fatal to the mosquito it infects. It explodes the mosquito gut where it is incubating.

  20. Chris

    The US does have a strong tradition of the seriously rich using their money to do things that benefit society. However, as Warren Buffet points out this should not be an excuse for undertaxing the rich.

    Thats true. Though as much as it might go against the typical view of the USA, I believe there’s more of a culture of giving to charitable causes. A quick google seems to indicate that on average USA people donate at about 4 times the rate of Australians (some of that is skewed by the really rich).

    When I lived in the US I was a bit surprised by some of the things that people on quite ordinary wages felt was an obligation to donate to – eg donating money to the university they went to help fund scholarships. In Australia most people would think of that as something the government is responsible for.

    As an aside as I think I’ve mentioned before the best way to increase philanthropy of the wealthy in Australia is to reintroduce death duties. People will give money away rather than give it to the government 🙂

  21. sg

    Down and Out of Saigon, here is a diagram of the life cycle of malaria. As you can see the mosquito picks up some gametocytes (?) from the human, so if you give the human the right chemicals you may be able to provoke an immune response in the mozzie. Or maybe you can just spray the mosquito?

    I think it’s worth bearing in mind that Bill Gates is exceptional as far as philanthropists go. Not only does he have fantabulous amounts of money, but he’s very smart and has a very, shall we say, non-American view of public health. He also obviously takes the responsibilities of rich people very seriously. But on top of that – perhaps because of his experience in the computing world? – he has a very clear idea of how institutions and governance structures serve to prevent or promote the public good. This makes him an ideal person to promote good results in aid. Just compare with the Koch brothers, whose pet project, the Cato Institute, is strongly opposed to the HPV vaccine, and never saw a government regulation it didn’t want to blame for the world’s ills. While those “philanthropists” are funding people to stridently demand the return of (largely useless) DDT, Gates is funding vaccine development and distribution. The difference in purpose and intelligence is obvious…

  22. GregM

    I need to make a clarification on my last post. Malarial infection is almost entirely a matter of human and some species of mosquito specific.

    There are some malarias which can cross species from our monkey cousins but they are very rare.

    However the mode of transmission of malaria from humans to mosquitoes would typically be from an infected human to an uninfected mosquito, where the protozoon does its work.

    The issue, as I recall from the article I read, is that when a mosquito extracts human blood it extracts whole blood, including red blood cells containing the malaria protozoa, which take enough time to digest in the mosquito’s gut that before those cells are digested,
    the immune response that started up in the red blood cells when infection occurred in the human host, continues in them long enough within the mosquito’s gut for the antigens produced by them to be released when the mosquito’s gut dissolves the red blood cells.

    Those antigens kill off the malaria protozoa at that stage or otherwise disrupt their reproduction, as I think sg @17 may have been referring to.

  23. John D

    GregM: The following article describes how wolbachia works to block dengue fever It may have been described as “mosquito vaccination” by someone. A raft of organizations, including the Gates foundation, are trying to use a similar approach to preventing the transfer of malaria and other diseases. (Just google wobachia malaria)