Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the widespread use of the malaria vaccine RTS,S/AS01, debuting a tool that could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in sub-Saharan Africa each year. The vaccine is not just a first for malaria - it is the first developed for any parasitic disease. This day was made possible through decades-long research and teaching commitments to advance malaria eradication.
The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the widespread use of the malaria vaccine RTS,S/AS01, marking the first step in a process that should lead to broad distribution in lowand middle-income countries. With a moderate efficacy of preventing 39% of malaria cases, the vaccine assists a child’s immune system to prevent an infection by Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of the five malaria pathogens and the most common in Africa.
Swiss TPH has played a leading role in this day coming to fruition thanks to decades of research and development of new malaria vaccines. Researchers at Swiss TPH contributed across the entire development pathway from discovery to preclinical studies, and through to human clinical testing in both early and late studies with many African collaborators.
"Today is a historic moment in the fight against this age-old disease," said Christian Lengeler, a malaria epidemiologist at Swiss TPH and President of the Swiss Malaria Group. "With a moderate efficacy of preventing 30% of severe malaria cases, the new vaccine still makes a very important public health contribution because this disease is so common, and negatively affects the lives of millions of African children."
First generation of malaria vaccines
Marcel Tanner, Director Emeritus of Swiss TPH, was a part of the 10-member team that organised and evaluated the Phase III clinical trials in 11 centres in seven African countries. "Depending on the country and malaria transmission, and in addition to other preventive measures such as mosquito nets and early diagnosis and treatment, the vaccine is of great importance," said Tanner.
Experts at Swiss TPH also calculated that RTS,S could save up to 880,000 lives over a 10-year period. In their models, scientists took into account demographic and epidemiological data, vaccination coverage rates and people’s access to healthcare in their respective countries. The models found RTS,S to have a high impact in countries with moderate to high malaria transmission, and a low impact in countries with low malaria transmission.
RTS,S, produced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), belongs to a first generation of malaria vaccines. With mRNA vaccination developed in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, new technologies are now also available for malaria vaccine development in the future. "We are only at the beginning of an important development and the long-held dream of one day being able to effectively combat and eliminate malaria," said Tanner.
WHO Collaborating Centre for Modelling, Monitoring and Training for Malaria Control and Elimination
The Collaborating Centre conducts modelling of malaria and intervention dynamics to project the impact of malaria interventions. The modelling supports the WHO in making decisions about the different interventions needed in order to catalyze research and innovation. In addition, it supports policy makers when analyzing the epidemiological impact of malaria, as well as conducting economic assessments of new tools and strategies.
In addition to modelling, Swiss TPH provides an evaluation of routine data and the implementation of interventions by assessing the relevance and quality of indicators used for stratification and surveillance-response approaches. Swiss TPH also develops tools that support endemic countries in malaria control and elimination, as well as assesses the training needs at a national and sub-national level.
Head of Unit
Subscribe to our newsletter and get all the latest research news, project updates, course and event listings from Swiss TPH.