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UW researchers developing next-generation malaria vaccine

Earlier this week the World Health Organization approved a malaria vaccine for use in children. The RTS,S vaccine was in development for more than 30 years. The green light from the WHO is being watched closely by researchers at the UW School of Medicine.

Dr. Sean Murphy runs the Murphy Lab at the University of Washington School of Medicine, where they are developing malaria vaccines and diagnostics.

“We’re now very excited that we have a vaccine in the malaria toolkit, " said Dr. Sean Murphy. “The malaria toolkit includes things like bed nets, spraying and treating people for malaria. But we never before had a vaccine in that toolkit so we’re really excited about that.”

Malaria kills around half a million people every year and more than 50 percent are children, nearly half of whom are in sub- Saharan Africa, according to global health leaders.

Dr. Murphy says children are most at risk of dying from malaria between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. RTS,S will be given to children starting at 18 months up to age 5 and requires up to 4 doses.

“It’s less than 50 % effective, but there’s so much malaria out there in the world we hope by adding this tool to the toolkit we’ll be able to save more lives and prevent more disease,” said Dr. Murphy.

The vaccine showed a 30% efficacy but when combined with anti-malarial drugs, there was a 70 percent reduction in deaths, according to clinical research.

At the UW School of Medicine, they hope to develop a vaccine that is even more effective.

“We, and others, are definitely trying to develop very highly protective malaria vaccines that would provide that kind of protection for years,” said Dr. Murphy.

What happens next with the logistics and implementation of RTS,S will impact future malaria drugs.

“What I really hope is whatever we learn about rolling out the RTS,S vaccine we can apply when second generation and later vaccines come along that are more effective. We can use that network to get it out there ever faster,” explained Dr. Murphy.

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