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Malaria vaccine trial raises hope of beating the deadly disease

A candidate malaria vaccine has demonstrated an unprecedented 77 percent efficacy in trials in Africa, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the fight against the disease that kills mostly children, its developer Oxford University announced Friday.

The vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, is the first to reach the 75% efficacy target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), said the university, which is collaborating with the US company Novavax.

Published in the scientific journal, The Lancet, “these new results give great hope in the potential of this vaccine”, commented Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, which also developed the anti-Covid vaccine with AstraZeneca.

The serum, which will be approved within two years, offers hope at a time when fears of malaria resistance to treatment are growing.

The parasitic disease has killed more than 400,000 people worldwide by 2019, two-thirds of children under five.

According to the WHO, the overwhelming majority of cases (94% of the 229 million infections worldwide) and deaths occur in Africa.

According to a 2019 phase II trial of 450 children aged between 5-17 months in Burkina Faso, the Oxford University vaccine showed 77% efficacy in those given a high dose of the jab, and 71% in those given a lower dose.

No serious side effects were observed.

Recruitment of 4,800 children in four African countries has begun for the final phase of the clinical trials.

The vaccine can be manufactured on a large scale and at a lower cost, the developers said. A partnership has been formed with the Serum Institute in India (SII), which already produces the Oxford/AstraZeneca covid vaccine, to “manufacture at least 200 million doses annually over the next few years”, according to Adrian Hill.

Another vaccine, developed by the British giant GSK, has already been administered to some 650,000 children since 2019 in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya as part of a pilot program launched by the WHO.

This has been proved to be less effective, preventing 4 out of 10 cases of malaria and 3 out of 10 cases of severe, life-threatening malaria.

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