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Hopes that a malaria vaccine could be widely available by 2012 have risen with the start last week (26 May) of phase III trials of the world's most advanced candidate.

Five infants in Bagamoyo, Tanzania, have received GlaxoSmithKline's RTS,S vaccine and 16,000 children aged two and under will receive the vaccine over the coming months. According to the WHO, most of the one million people killed by malaria are less than five years old. It is hoped that the vaccine will offer protection lasting several years.

The RTS,S milestone has been more than two decades in the making and more than US$400 million has been invested in the project.

If the trials are successful — that is, if they show that RTS,S prevents malaria symptoms in at least half of the infants and children in the study — the vaccine could be submitted for regulatory review by 2011 and on the market by 2012.

The Malaria Vaccine Initiative says it is working with other vaccine-funding organisations to ensure that the vaccine will be affordable if it reaches the market. Christian Loucq, director of the initiative says it is "very clear" that the vaccine will be provided free to African babies and mothers.

Salim Abdulla, principal investigator of the Tanzania trial said: "This vaccine has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives. It's an amazing feeling to be part of [this trial]."

Link to full article in Nature