GSK lands first-ever UNICEF contract for malaria vaccine worth $170M
GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF — the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.
The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.
“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”
GSK’s vaccine was first approved by the EMA in 2015, but concerns arose over the shot’s efficacy, which in clinical trials reached 50% against severe malaria after the first year, but fell in subsequent years. Some experts also questioned the shot’s ability to prevent death, given that studies did not directly measure mortality.
But a WHO 2019 pilot program in three countries — Ghana, Kenya and Malawi — informed WHO’s recommendation in October 2021 and showed that more than two-thirds of children in the three countries who are not sleeping under a bed net are benefiting from the vaccine, lining up wider use of the vaccine in countries with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. Two months later, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance said it would provide funding for malaria vaccine programs in eligible countries.
UNICEF also said it supports the regional diversification of vaccine production and encourages GSK and other manufacturers to consider partnering with African companies.
According to WHO data, more than 30 countries have areas with moderate to high malaria transmission, and in 2020, nearly 500,000 children died from malaria in Africa at a rate of one child death per minute.
“Lives are at stake, every day. WHO welcomes the progress to secure supply and timely access to vaccine so that more countries can begin to introduce this additional malaria prevention tool as rapidly as possible,” said Kate O’Brien, WHO director of the 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 first.”
One hitch is that the shot must be administered in four doses, beginning when children reach five months of age until they turn three years old. Otherwise, some of the best tools to fight malaria have been spraying insecticides in the home and wrapping mattresses with special nets to ward off the mosquitoes that carry the parasite.