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Malaria vaccines: The long war

On October 8th researchers announced progress in developing a vaccine against malaria. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a British pharmaceutical firm, said it would seek regulatory approval next year for this vaccine, called RTS,S. GSK and its charitable partner, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, also revealed new data showing the vaccine’s effect in children. This is good news, but RTS,S will not vanquish malaria by itself.

There were, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about 200m cases of malaria around the world in 2010, with 660,000 deaths, 90% of which were in Africa, mostly of young children. The prospect of a vaccine is therefore exciting to patients and health experts alike. But developing one is difficult. Malarial parasites, though small and single-celled, are much more complex than the bacteria and viruses that are the usual targets of vaccines. To date there has been no successful vaccine against such a complex organism. Work on RTS,S has been going on for decades.

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