While the world is as close as it has ever been to having a malaria vaccine, the fight to eradicate the disease is far from over. That was the consensus among experts in the field who gathered at a forum hosted by Harvard’s Defeating Malaria: From the Genes to the Globe initiative on April 6, 2016. Focused on the latest research in vaccine development for infectious diseases, the event highlighted the promise and limitations of RTS,S, the first malaria vaccine candidate to win regulatory approval.
Development of RTS,S began in the 1980s at GlaxoSmithKline, which later partnered with international nonprofit PATH on the effort. Recent clinical trials found that the vaccine provided modest immunity for older babies, although that protection waned over time. While its performance has been less than ideal, the burden of malaria is so high—214 million cases each year and 438,000 deaths, primarily in children in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)—that this vaccine can still have a significant impact, experts say. The European Medicines Agency approved RTS,S last July, and in January, WHO released a position paper recommending large-scale pilot implementation of the vaccine.
Dyann Wirth, Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, gave opening remarks at the forum, which was held at Harvard Medical School’s Joseph B. Martin Conference Center.