A vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative has been shown to reduce the risk of malaria in African children by almost half in the first results of a Phase III clinical trial.

The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show three doses of the RTS,S vaccine reduced the risk of clinical malaria and severe malaria by 56% and 47%, respectively.

The analysis was performed on data from the first 6,000 children aged five to 17 months, over a 12-month period following vaccination.

A study of severe malaria episodes reported in 15,460 infants and children enrolled in the trial at 6 weeks to 17 months of age also showed a 35% efficacy rate over a follow-up period ranging between 0 and 22 months.

The trial is ongoing and efficacy and safety results in six to 12 week-old infants are expected by the end of 2012.

GSK CEO Andrew Witty said: "These data bring us to the cusp of having the world’s first malaria vaccine, which has the potential to significantly improve the outlook for children living in malaria endemic regions across Africa. The addition of a malaria vaccine to existing control interventions such as bed nets and insecticide spraying could potentially help prevent millions of cases of this debilitating disease."

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PATH president and CEO Christopher Elias added: "This trial represents a powerful example of the high-quality science that is moving us toward controlling and someday potentially eliminating malaria. The results are encouraging and certainly something to feel good about, but let’s also remember the human dimension. The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative’s mission is to deliver a vaccine to the children of Africa so that instead of carrying near lifeless babies to crowded pediatric wards, mothers will carry their infants past noisy school playgrounds to bustling immunization clinics. Today, we are an important step closer to realizing that vision."