GSK develops malaria vaccine

Share this article

The Belgian division of GSK has been working for thirty years on a vaccine against the deadly infectious disease malaria. The European Medicines Agency recently released a favorable opinion on this vaccine. This is a milestone, as this is the first vaccine for prevention of malaria that can be placed on the market.

GSK now waits for a policy recommendation by the WHO, after which it will submit an application to market the vaccine in every African where malaria is prevalent. If everything goes well, the drug will be available by the end of 2017.

Malaria is responsible for more than 600.000 deaths each year, of which 90 percent origin from African countries south of the Sahara Desert. Four out of five victims are younger than five years. Infants between 6 weeks to 17 months are the most vulnerable.

“When children aged 5 to 17 months get the drug injected several times, the risk of malaria is reduced by 40 to 50 percent. In babies from six weeks to four months, the result is somewhat lower: it reduces the risk of malaria by a quarter to a third.  Much will also depend on how well vaccination campaigns in African countries run and the vaccine might never be a tool in itself. We simply have to combine it with the existing measures against malaria, such as bed nets and insecticides. The timely diagnosis of malaria will always be crucial,” says Lode Schuerman, a tropical physician that works as a malaria vaccine expert at GSK Belgium.

GSK committed to make the price of the drug only 5 percent more expensive than the production cost of producing the drug. Up to now, more than $ 365 million has been invested in the development of the vaccine, which was largely funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  “We actually followed the not-for-profit principle,” says Dr. Schuerman. “We reinvest the little profit we make in research into second-generation malaria vaccines and vaccines against other neglected tropical diseases.”