The pharmaceutical biggie GlaxoSmithKline announced its proposed launch of final clinical trials for an anti-malaria vaccine in seven African countries to kick-off in January.
"This is the most advanced vaccine, and the only one today that has been shown effective against malaria in infants and children in Africa," said Joe Cohen, who created the vaccine after two decades of work for GlaxoSmithKline.
Studies in Mozambique on children under five found that the vaccine, called RTS,S, was 30-35 percent effective against benign cases of malaria and 50 percent effective against severe cases, over a period of about three years.
"With 30-35 percent effectiveness, that would prevent 100 million cases of illness a year ... and suggests that several million lives could be saved," Cohen told AFP, noting that malaria spells death for nearly one million children every year.
In Mozambique, the vaccine also reduced the number of hospitalizations from malaria, said Christian Loucq, director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which is financed in part by the Bill et Melinda Gates Foundation.
The clinical trials will take place at 11 sites in Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Gabon, Ghana, Burkina Faso et Tanzania.
About 16,000 children will take part in the study, which includes African scientists, and the first trials should begin in January in some countries, Loucq said.
"This is a vaccine designed to activate the immune system in such a way ... that it destroys the parasite very quickly when it is in the blood or the liver, before it reaches the red blood cells," Cohen explained.
The phase III trial, the last step before seeking regulatory approval, would allow sales of the vaccine possibly in 2012, if the results are conclusive.
Developing the vaccine has cost some 500 million dollars i.e. 392 millions euros, Cohen and Loucq said.