(RxWiki News) Methods like medication and mosquito nets have long led the fight against malaria, but a new approach could be on the horizon.
British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has announced that it will be seeking approval for the world's first malaria vaccine.
If approved, the vaccine could be used to help protect people — particularly children in Africa — from the serious, mosquito-borne illness.
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GSK is seeking approval for the new malaria vaccine through the European Medicines Agency. This process will determine the vaccine's safety and effectiveness before the agency approves it for use outside of the European Union.
The vaccine, called RTS,S, aims to trigger the immune system in an effort to protect against the Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasite, common in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the region where the vaccine would likely first be deployed if approved by the European Medicines Agency and recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Initial symptoms of malaria often include fever, headache and vomiting. According to WHO, these symptoms usually develop 10 to 15 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.
"The vaccine is designed to prevent the parasite from infecting, maturing and multiplying in the liver, after which time the parasite would re-enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells, leading to disease symptoms," GSK reported.
According to WHO, malaria caused an estimated 207 million illnesses and 627,000 deaths in 2012. Most of these illnesses and deaths occurred in children younger than 5. Because of this fact, trials for the RTS,S vaccine have focused on young children.
RTS,S is being moved along in the approval process after a trial that included 15,460 young children and infants from eight African countries — Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania. During this trial, the children received three doses of the vaccine with one month between each dose.
According to WHO, the trial found a stronger effect from the vaccine in children between the ages of 5 and 17 months compared to infants between the ages of 6 and 14 weeks. Initial results from the trial showed a 55 percent reduction in the number of malaria episodes after one year.
"According to the vaccine development partnership's timelines, the information needed for WHO to make an assessment will become available in late 2014, to allow possible recommendation for use in 2015, depending on the results," WHO reported.