- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 10, 2006

OnThursday,the White House hosts an event that has the potential to impact millions of lives. This event is not about global trade policy or international security, but rather about malaria, a disease that kills a child every thirty seconds and keeps an entire continent locked in a cycle of poverty.

Malaria inflicts a terrifying toll globally, but children in Africa are hardest hit. More than 1 million people, most of them children under the age of five, die from malaria every year. Malaria also robs Africa of precious resources — health expenditures and lost productivity account for as much as $12 billion each year.

The White House Summit on Malaria will highlight recent progress against the disease, including the President’s Malaria Initiative, which has pledged $1.2 billion over five years to roll out today’s best, most effective tools for prevention and treatment.

Yes, there has been important progress. However, my job as a scientist is to find new and better ways to fight the disease. For years, a vaccine, the “holy grail” of malaria control, has been sought without success. The malaria parasite has developed exquisite mechanisms for eluding a person’s immune system, mechanisms that challenge the capabilities of vaccine technology.

The goal is now within reach. My own laboratory at GlaxoSmithKline has been developing a malaria vaccine for more than 20 years. Last year, our leading vaccine candidate made history with the publication of promising results in the prestigious journal The Lancet. Studies found that the vaccine candidate was effective for at least 18 months in reducing severe malaria by 49 percent in young children living in Mozambique.

These results represent a major scientific breakthrough in the field. With a disease like malaria, this level of protection has the potential to save millions of lives.

If all goes well, we believe that GSK’s vaccine candidate could be submitted to regulatory authorities for approval as early as 2010. A manufacturing plant in Belgium will be ready by then to supply millions of doses each year to children in many of Africa’s poorest countries. GSK and its partners are prepared to provide this vaccine at an affordable price to the developing world.

However, history teaches us that simply having a vaccine is not enough. Putting financing in place now is the key to speeding the delivery of lifesaving vaccines to children in poor countries.

In the past, it has taken as long as 15 to 20 years for a new vaccine to reach developing countries, due largely to a lack of funds to purchase and distribute vaccines in resource-poor settings. Recently, though, this problem has begun to be addressed with the help of an international organization called the GAVI Alliance, which purchases vaccines for the world’s poorest countries.

Another promising development for vaccines is the growing momentum for advance market commitments, or AMCs, a financing mechanism under consideration by donor countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom. U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown has already publicly committed to buying millions of doses of a malaria vaccine once it has been approved. The United States should consider doing the same.

The White House summit also is the perfect time to shine the spotlight on the preparations that will be needed to deploy this vaccine. These preparations include enlisting global public health officials; developing reliable demand forecasts; fast-tracking regulatory approval; and laying the groundwork for the vaccine’s introduction as part of a broader malaria prevention strategy. The president has an unusual platform where he can outline this collective to-do list, and the opportunity must not be wasted.

Above all, these preparations will take partnership. GSK’s quest for a vaccine has benefited from close collaboration with scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and many of Africa’s leading malaria experts and public health officials. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s leadership has been critical in forging these partnerships, and we must all follow that institution’s example, working together to do what is necessary.

Though the world has started down the right path, responding with increasing urgency to the malaria epidemic, that path remains long and difficult. Only with creative partnerships and careful planning will we ensure that a malaria vaccine reaches those who need it most.

Joe Cohen is the co- inventor of GSK’s malaria candidate vaccine and vice president of r&d;, vaccines for emerging diseases & HIV for GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals.

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