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A Malaria Vaccine at Last!

In case you haven’t heard yet, they announced today in a paper published in NEJM that scientists have created the world’s first malaria vaccine. This is a landmark paper that will mark a major victory against malaria. The vaccine called RTS, S/AS01 Mosquirix was developed by Joe Cohen, a GSK research scientist over the last quarter decade. In a joint public-private partnership between GSK, Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) Malaria Vaccine Initiative and grant support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the vaccine showed that it had an efficacy rate near 50% for protecting children from clinical malaria. (Full Article Here)

This is super exciting news!!! For a person who’s studied malaria, who understands it’s impact is has to developing countries and the burden it poses to children all over the world, who has seen how terrible it is to have this disease, this is a giant step towards eradicating malaria. Although malaria has been absent from the Western societies for decades, millions of people still face this disabling and horrible pathogen. Malaria kills more than 750,000 people every year.

“But today I feel fabulous. This is a dream of any scientist — to see your life’s work actually translated into a medicine … that can have this great impact on peoples’ lives. How lucky am I?” – Joe Cohen

It really is heart warming to know that dedicated scientists along with generous donors can still make a difference in the world. That pharmaceutical companies aren’t all about the blockbuster hits like lipitor, plavix and celebrex.

I recently saw the movie Contagion starring Matt Damon Gwenyth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and a pretty hefty ensemble cast. The premise of the movie was that a new virus outbreak that spread into a pandemic and the plot follows how society responds to it. From the CDC tracing down the source of the pathogen and trying to contain it with quarantine measures, to the pandemonium and rioting of citizens, Contagion is a movie I would recommend to everyone, especially science/infectious disease geeks. I enjoyed the movie immensely, especially since I have done some lab research with viruses in the past. It may have exaggerated some aspects, but it sticks true to the message that infectious diseases are a risk to everyone. A child sick with flu symptoms in Asia can easily affect you through the contagious spread of diseases in our small connected world.

The Bill Gates and Melinda Foundation has declared this decade as the decade of vaccines. Forty years ago the eradicated smallpox. Today we are at the frontier of eradicating Polio. Tomorrow, it might be Malaria next.

I’m still reading through the paper, but I couldn’t contain my happiness about learning of this breakthrough! Just wanted to spread the good news. Although the inventors of this partial malaria vaccine deserves a congratulation, they know this is just another step in the control and elimination of malaria. It will be interesting to see the full results of this phase III trial in 2014.

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  1. a
    a October 19, 2011

    Great post! This is very exciting. And thanks for the sentiments on Contagion, I’d been debating paying to see it but now I think I’ll be getting some of my med friends together to go see it. Thanks!

    • medaholic
      medaholic October 19, 2011

      Go watch it, highly recommend it. I watched it with a bunch of med school friends and we ended up chatting for over an hour about the movie afterwards 🙂

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