The landmark award, valued at up to USD 170 million, will lead to 18 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine being available over the next three years, potentially saving thousands of young lives annually. The RTS,S malaria vaccine – the result of 35 years of research and development – is the first-ever vaccine against a parasitic disease.
Pharmaceutical company GSK has
been awarded a contract to produce the world’s first malaria vaccine so that
millions more children will be protected against the killer disease.
The landmark award, valued at up
to USD 170 million, will lead to 18 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine being
available over the next three years, potentially saving thousands of young
lives annually. The RTS,S malaria vaccine – the result of 35 years of research
and development – is the first-ever vaccine against a parasitic disease.
It was launched in a 2019 pilot
programme, coordinated by WHO, in three countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi –
which has reached more than 800,000 children. Last October, the UN health
agency recommended its widespread use in countries with moderate to high
The disease which is caused by
parasites and transmitted to humans through infected female Anopheles
mosquitoes remains one of the biggest killers of children under five. In 2020,
nearly half a million boys and girls died from the disease in Africa alone, a
rate of one death every minute.
More than 30 countries have areas
with moderate to high malaria transmission, according to data from the World
Health Organization (WHO), and the vaccine could provide added protection to
more than 25 million children each year once the supply ramps up.
Etleva Kadilli, Director of
UNICEF’s Supply Division, said the rollout sends a clear message to malaria
vaccine developers to continue their work. “We hope this is just the beginning.
Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to
increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market,” she said.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance,
has already announced a decision to provide funding for malaria vaccine programmes
in eligible countries, opening the pathway for a broader roll-out of the vaccine.
“Thanks to UNICEF’s procurement
work, we now have more certainty on supply and can move a step further towards
getting this life-saving vaccine to the people who need it the most. As
manufacturing ramps up over time, we hope that increasing volumes will also
lead to more sustainable, lower prices,” according to GAVI CEO Seth Barkley.
Meanwhile, WHO has welcomed
progress in securing supply and timely access to the vaccine so that more
countries can introduce it as soon as possible.
“Lives are at stake, every day,”
said Dr Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines
and Biologicals. “Given the initial limited supply, it is crucial that children
living in areas where the risk of disease and need is highest are prioritized
UNICEF expects that the demand for
the malaria vaccine will be high among affected countries. As with any new
vaccine, supply will be limited at first, the agency said but will increase as
manufacturing capacity ramps up over time, which in turn will lead to a decrease
in costs per dose.
Plans are already underway to
boost production, including through technology transfer, UNICEF added, “so that
every child at risk will one day have the opportunity to be immunized against
this killer disease”.