WHO launches new drive for malaria vaccine by 2015

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WHO BANGKOK (Reuters) - The World Health Organization launched a new global effort on Monday to find a vaccine against malaria, which infects up to 500 million people each year, and the donors to pay for it.

The Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap aims to develop and license a first generation vaccine by 2015 against the mosquito-borne disease which kills more than one million people a year, mainly African children.

"The Roadmap marks the first concerted global attempt at mapping out a shared plan of action for making a preventive malaria vaccine reality," Marie-Paule Kieny, a top WHO official, said on the sidelines of a vaccine conference in Bangkok.

Malaria is one of the world's oldest diseases, but only $79 million was invested on researching a vaccine in 2004, according to a report by the Malaria Research and Development Alliance.

That is a fraction of the money spent on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS or, more recently, the H5N1 bird flu virus which has killed 154 people since 2003 but has fanned fears of a global human pandemic.

For years, malaria was not seen as a profitable area of research, but that is changing slowly through private-public partnerships, said Zarifah Hussain Reed, a WHO expert on vaccine and immunization issues.

"The attention drives the research. That's not to say bird flu doesn't deserve the attention, but it should not be about one disease hijacking the agenda," she told reporters.

The Roadmap aims to have a first-generation vaccine by 2015 that is 50-percent effective and would last longer than one year.

It sets a goal for a second-generation vaccine by 2025 that is more than 80 percent effective and offer protection for more than four years.

The WHO said more than 30 potential vaccines were under development, but there was not enough capacity or money to test them in clinical trials, especially in countries where the disease is endemic.

To overcome these and other hurdles the Roadmap makes a series of recommendations:

  • Standardize procedures for assessing vaccine candidates and use the Internet to share information between laboratories and clinics.
  • Diversify the search for a vaccine.
  • Build up capacity for clinical trials in Africa and other areas where malaria is endemic.
  • Secure sustainable funding and develop a regulatory strategy to speed up approval of a safe vaccine.

Malaria is caused by protozoan parasites which thrive in humans and are passed between them by female Anopheles mosquitoes.

There is no vaccine against the parasite, which has grown resistant to a number of well-known anti-malarial drugs, including chloroquine and pyrimethamine.

Artemisinin, a compound extracted from a Chinese herb, is regarded by medical experts as the best drug against malaria and the WHO recommended in 2001 it be used in combination with other drugs to slow down any development of resistance.

source - Reuters