Scientists across the globe have long hunted for a vaccine against malaria – a disease that claims roughly one million lives each year. But after decades of searching, the creation of a malaria vaccine began to look more and more likely.
The first good piece of news relating to the wiping out of malaria came after UK-based pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) announced it would take the significantly unprecedented step of sharing its scientific data and laboratories to help fight the good fight against tropical countries.
According to reports, Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of the firm and the driving force behind the initiative, the drug company has a “genuine appetite to change the landscape of healthcare for the world’s poorest people.”
Meanwhile, in separate reports, researchers in Australia said a group of proteins produced in the human immune system – when infected with malaria – could help lead to the creation of a malaria vaccine.
This news – which broke just after GSK’s announcement – came from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute and has reportedly left scientists optimistic that a vaccine can be created because people living in malaria hotspots eventually build up some immunity against the disease.
Lack of Resources
However, official estimates show that, while Africa carries roughly 70 percent of the number of worldwide cases for malaria, it receives just three percent of global healthcare resources.
For GSK’s Witty, long periods of working in the continent have reportedly made this issue “very personal” to him, at least according to the British press.
As such, GSK, the world’s third-largest drug company, will freely release 13,500 of its compounds, via a website, that it believes have the potential to be developed into new malaria treatments.
The plan will also see the firm open up one of its labs in Tres Cantos, Spain, for non-GSK scientists to use to investigate treatments for other tropical diseases. According to reports, the so-called “Open Lab” will offer enough space for 60 scientists to work on treatments and GSK will provide $8 million of funding for their research.
Meanwhile, at the Australian Institute, the research – which scoured the results of international studies to find antigens (substances that provoke an immune response in the body) to find a potential weapon against malaria – has found a protein produced by malaria parasites that does just that.
According to the researchers, a successful vaccine would stimulate the body’s defenses to stop the malaria parasite. Dr. James Beeson writes, “The basis of the vaccine would be trying to speed up what the immune system does naturally in areas where malaria occurs.
“What the vaccine would aim to do is achieve that in a much more rapid process, rather than losing many people’s lives and people experiencing a lot of illness before they develop immunity.”
The good news continued after GSK announced it will adopt not-for-profit pricing on its potential malaria vaccine – which is currently the world’s leading candidate for a prevention of the disease – and reinvest the small returns in the research of tropical disease treatments.
According to a spokesman from leading emergency aid society the Red Cross: “Any research which reduces the burden of this disease has to be welcomed.”
However, the Australian researchers, though encouraged by their findings, did note that more clinical experiments are needed and a vaccine could be at least 10 years away.
Take a look at the accompanying infographic, which breaks down the facts and figures behind the disease and highlights the need for such a solid investment in vaccine research.
Posted in: Science&Technology