Raise your hand if you’d like a shot in the arm! While I imagine few would jump at the chance to feel the sting of an inoculation needle, many folks are willing to roll up their sleeves (albeit with a sense of resignation) when it brings peace of mind that such a shot will protect them against deadly disease.
Which is why I can use the term “exciting” about the recent news that has come up this month in the vaccination market: progress has been made in the ongoing development of a vaccine for malaria. GlaxoSmithKline(GSK) has been conducting clinical trials for its Mosquirix vaccine for several years, and recent studies in Kenya and Tanzania imply that the product could have greater impact in protecting against the disease than other previous or current vaccine development attempts.
While modern medicine has led to protection against (and even eradication of) many diseases that have historically caused epidemics and pandemics, there is still much progress to be made in the vaccination market. In the US, we take for granted our access to a large number of available preventatives and treatments, but in the developing world there are still unacceptable levels of deaths caused by treatable or preventable diseases.
And regardless of location, there are still many diseases that researchers have thus far been unable to develop vaccines for. According to the World Health Organization, malaria is the third-deadliest global disease (behind AIDS and tuberculosis), causing about 781,000 deaths in 2009, which primarily occurred in sub-Saharan African children. And while anti-viral therapies and anti-mosquito strategies are working to lower the number of deaths, an effective vaccine could offer much greater levels of protection.
GSK’s research project is conducted in partnership with PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The mega-charity has put substantial amounts of funding into the drug development industry, focusing on vaccinesand therapies for conditions that are presently under-treated or untreatable, especially in developing countries.
Other companies that are working on potential malaria vaccines in various stages of development include Merck, Crucell, GenVec, and Mymetics. The WHO and the Gates Foundation have also funded projects that aim to reduce malaria by targeting disease-carrying mosquitoes with pesticides, nets, and infrared light.
While the Mosquirix vaccine is showing great progress, the drug’s long-term effectiveness won’t be known until 2014, which means it likely won’t be commercially available until 2015 at the earliest. Nonetheless, progress is progress, and in the tedious world of drug development, the recent study results are indeed good news.