More than 5,500 children across Africa have been given an experimental new malaria vaccine and the British drugmaker behind it, GlaxoSmithKline, promised on Wednesday that price would be no hurdle if it works.
The vaccine, called Mosquirix and the first malaria shot to make it to final-stage trials, is creating a buzz ahead of a conference of 1,500 malaria experts in Nairobi next week.
And while the world will have to wait a little longer for the trial's results, Glaxo Chief Executive Andrew Witty said his company was committed to being reasonable on price.
We are not going to let price get in the way of access for malaria vaccines, he told reporters on Wednesday. We will be extremely responsible about the way we price this vaccine.
Christian Loucq, president of the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, said international and African health experts hope Mosquirix, also known as RTS,S, would prove a winner in bringing the elusive goal of eradicating the killer disease within sight.
Malaria is such a huge problem in Africa, and a vaccine is perceived as such a strong intervention, that when we talk about a potential vaccine candidate the cry is always 'when will it come?' he said in an interview in London before the Nairobi conference, which runs from November 1 to November 6.
Among public health specialists and vaccinologists in Africa, this is seen as the major upcoming intervention -- and that is creating great excitement.
Malaria kills almost a million people each year and around 40 percent of the world's population is at risk of the disease, mainly in world's poorest countries. Health experts stress that there are no magic bullets against the disease.
They also estimate that $4.2 billion will be needed each year to fully fund the fight against it.
The large-scale efficacy and safety trials of Mosquirix began in May [ID:nL053242] and it has now been given to between 5,000 and 6,000 children in seven African countries including Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Gabon.
The trial, the largest ever on the African continent, will eventually involve 16,000 children and yield initial data after 12 months and final results after 30 months.
Data from earlier trials of Mosquirix suggest it is 50 to 55 percent effective -- but since it is likely to be another three to five years before it is licensed and put into use if it does prove to work, malaria experts stress that eradicating the disease will mean fighting on many fronts.
Insecticides to spray bednets and houses to deter mosquitoes, and finding new and funding existing drugs to treat infected people are essential elements of the battle, as are keeping up funding for research into possible vaccines and newer, more effective drugs.
We must not repeat the mistakes of previous elimination and eradication campaigns, when people forgot about investing in continuous research, Loucq said.
If we are really serious about this goal, the investment in the tools of today is critical. But we need to have the tools of today and the tools of tomorrow -- which we will need when today's tools lose their efficacy.
Glaxo's Witty said he favoured structures like the Advance Market Commitment programme devised by international donors, which creates a financial incentive with a guaranteed price for drugmakers to deliver vaccines to poorer countries.