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First results from a large-scale trial of a potential malaria vaccine show it provides young African children with significant protection against the deadly disease.

The Phase III trial, conducted at 11 trial sites in seven countries across sub-Saharan Africa, including a UNC-led site in Malawi, showed that three doses of the vaccine candidate reduced the risk of 5 to 17 month-old children experiencing clinical malaria and severe malaria by 56 percent and 47 percent, respectively.

The results were announced today at the Malaria Forum hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Wash., and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Half the world’s population is at risk of malaria. The disease is responsible for close to 800,000 deaths each year, most of whom are children under five in sub-Saharan Africa

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, is being developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, together with African research centers.

UNC enrolled 1,600 children at the study site in Lilongwe, Malawi.

“The publication of the first results in children aged 5 to 17 months marks an important milestone in the development of RTS,S,” said Irving Hoffman, co-principal investigator at the Lilongwe site and associate professor of medicine in the UNC School of Medicine. “These results confirm findings from previous Phase II studies and support ongoing efforts to advance the development of this malaria vaccine candidate.”

“Making progress against this disease has been extremely difficult, and sadly, many have resigned themselves to malaria being a fact of life in Africa. This need not be the case,” said Francis Martinson, Ph.D., co-principal investigator in Lilongwe and country director of UNC Project-Malawi. “Renewed interest in malaria by the international community, and scientific evidence such as that we are reporting today, should bring new hope that malaria can be controlled.”

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