By the time the second hand on your wristwatch has circled its dial, a child in Africa will have died of malaria. And by the time those minutes have added up to a year, more than 500,000 people will have died from the disease1 - and 90% of those deaths will happen in Africa.
Malaria has been a health problem for much of human history, but recent progress in scaling up the use of bed-nets and anti-malarial treatments has seen annual deaths from malaria fall while scientists continue to search for new medicines and vaccines against malaria.
What causes malaria?
The enemy is tiny, but it packs a punch. Malaria is caused by parasites of the Plasmodium species, which are spread to people by mosquitoes carrying the parasites. If you are unlucky enough to get an infection, you can expect fever, shivering and vomiting but if left untreated, can lead to anaemia, seizure, coma and even death.
The cause may be microscopic, but the problem it presents is huge. About half the world’s population is at risk from malaria, with most infections occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.
We are determined to help stop this disease, and along with our partner organisations we are optimistic this can be achieved. Our malaria strategy involves three prongs of attack: R&D for new malaria treatments and vaccines; community investment activities through our African Malaria Partnership; and improving access to medicines in the least developed countries and sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria is preventable and treatable, and all three approaches have their place.
With partners across the world, we are developing a malaria candidate vaccine. At our research and development facility at Tres Cantos in Spain, more than 50 scientists in our malaria discovery unit are searching for potential new medicines to fight the disease. Nearly all of this work is done in collaboration with academic groups and NGOs.
Our African Malaria Partnership was established in 2001. It works with NGOs to educate communities about malaria and the preventative measures that can be taken against it, such as sleeping under treated bed nets and seeking immediate treatment for children showing signs of fever.
A vaccine against malaria?
For the past 30 years, GSK scientists have been working with others across the globe to try to develop what could be the world’s first vaccine to help protect children in Africa from malaria. Our vaccine candidate – RTS,S – is being developed in partnership with PATH MVI, supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It aims to trigger the immune system to defend against the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum.
RTS,S has been evaluated in a large Phase III study in Africa. We received a positive opinion from European regulators in July 2015. If the required regulatory approvals are obtained, WHO has indicated that a policy recommendation for the malaria vaccine candidate is possible by the end of 2015. The vaccine is intended to complement existing measures to fight malaria, such as bed nets and indoor residual insecticide spraying.
Alongside RTS,S, our commitment to tackling malaria through other routes remains. It is too early to say whether malaria’s time is up, but the clock must be ticking.