PINGILIKANI IS A SMALL VILLAGE in Chonyi, deep in Kilifi County, in Kenya's coastal region. Just like its Swahili name suggests, it is a place of stunning rolling hills and steep undulating knolls.
It is at Pingilikani that Felicia Dzombo's daughter took part in history-making. Dzombo's daughter is among 15,460 infants and children drawn from seven African countries who have been enrolled in the testing of a potential malaria vaccine, called RTS, S. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), over one million people die annually from malaria, the majority of them in 3o sub-Saharan African countries. Malaria is also the leading cause of death for children under five.
The annual economic cost of the disease currently stands at sizbn. Over the years, Dzombo has seen several trials within her immediate family and community but she does not know what happens after the tests.
At the Pingilikani Health Dispensary, three heavyweight institutions--GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (GSK Biologicals), PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (PATHMVI), and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), the country's principal medical research agency, among other partners--have set up a malaria vaccine trial site.
Pingilikani is one of II such trial sites spread across seven African countries. The others are in Nanoro (Burkina Faso), Lambarene. (Gabon), Kintampo and Kumasi (Ghana), Lilongwe, (Malawi), Manhica (Mozambique), Bagamoyo and Korogwe (Tanzania) and Siaya, Kombewa and Kilifi (Kenya). The trial sites were strategically picked as they "represented diverse malaria transmission settings". In the words of GSK Biologicals and PATH-MVI, the sites ((were chosen for their track record of world class clinical research, strong community relations and commitment to meeting the highest international ethical, medical, clinical and regulatory standards."
The malaria vaccine is a story that goes back to 1987, when GSK Biologicals (the Belgium-based vaccine division of the global pharmaceutical giant, GSK--headquartered in London) in collaboration with the US Army's Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) developed RTS, S as a vaccine candidate.
Dr Joe Cohen, who is currently GSK's vice president of Research and Development in charge of Emerging Diseases and HIV, is the co-inventor of RTS, S.
GSK Biologicals is the world's leading vaccine manufacturer. In 2008, it distributed to billion doses of vaccines to 176 countries across the globe. The company reveals that RTS, S was first tested in healthy adults in Belgium and the USA. It took it years of research before the vaccine was developed. "Phase One trials", however, were conducted among adults in The Gambia. In January 2001, with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, GSK and the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health-Malaria Vaccine Initiative (PATH-MVI) entered into a public-private partnership agreement to develop RTS, S for children in Africa,
Phase two trials commenced in...