GSK reports lackluster PhIII malaria vaccine data

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A GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) malaria vaccine posted surprisingly lackluster results in a Phase III trial, putting a damper on solid results from previous studies. The vaccine against the mosquito-borne illness proved only 30% effective when given to African children in a clinical trial.

Still, GSK plans to move forward with development of the vaccine. The trial included 6,537 babies aged 6 to 12 weeks; the vaccine offered "modest protection," knocking down episodes of the disease 30% compared with the immunization with a control vaccine, Reuters reports.

"The efficacy is lower than what we saw last year with the older 5-17 month age category, which surprised some of us scientists at the African trial sites," Dr. Salim Abdulla, a principal investigator for the trial from the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania, said in a release. "It makes us even more eager to gather and analyze more data from the trial to determine what factors might influence efficacy against malaria and to better understand the potential of RTS,S in our battle against this devastating disease."

In 2010, malaria caused an estimated 655,000 deaths, mostly among African children, the World Health Organization says.

The Phase III trial, completed in conjunction with PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, was backed by $200 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill Gates, whose organization commits billions of dollars to improving global health, said the study marked an important milestone.

"The efficacy came back lower than we had hoped, but developing a vaccine against a parasite is a very hard thing to do," Gates said in a statement. "The trial is continuing and we look forward to getting more data to help determine whether and how to deploy this vaccine."

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