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Malaria milestone as new vaccine approved

Posted on the 19th April 2023

New Malaria Vaccine

Ghana has become the first country to approve a malaria vaccine described as a ‘world-changer’ by the scientists who developed it.

Formulated by the team behind the University of Oxford’s coronavirus jab, the R21 vaccine is only the second to be authorised for use by regulators in Ghana. The World Health Organization is now also considering approving the vaccine.

There are high hopes that it will play a significant role in combating a pathogen that still kills more than 600,000 people every year, the vast majority of whom are children under five in Africa.

Final data from an ongoing phase three trial in almost 5,000 children - which was set to help determine the length of protection and whether boosters will be needed - has yet to be published. But scientists said they have already shared findings with regulatory agencies.

Previous data has been promising.

A phase two trial in 450 volunteers found R21 was 77 per cent effective against the disease in areas where malaria is seasonal, with no safety red flags. Further data published last summer found that a booster dose a year after the initial three shots meant efficacy remained as high as 80 per cent 12 months later.

Developing jabs to combat the ancient killer has been notoriously difficult due to the malaria parasite’s complicated life cycle and its ability to avoid detection by the immune system.

Over 100 candidates have been trialled, but last October – after 35 years of development and $200 million (£160 million) – GSK’s RTS,S shot was the first to receive a green light. However, efficacy is well below the WHO’s target of 75 per cent and the vaccine isn’t cheap, putting it out of reach for many of the countries that need it most.

Supply is also likely to remain constrained for several years, as a lack of funding has hampered GSK’s ability to mass produce the shot.

The company has committed to producing up to 15 million doses every year until 2028, which is substantially lower than the 100 million that the WHO says is needed to protect around 25 million children in the long term.

Related: Cancer drug could treat malaria

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