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An international partnership has announced that it is about to start the largest malaria vaccine trial carried out in Africa to date.

The trial, which will start on Monday in Mozambique, will test the efficacy and safety of the potential vaccine, known as RTS,S/AS02A, among 2,000 children.

Developed by the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (GSK Bios), the vaccine has already been shown to be safe and able to generate an immune response in adults in Belgium, Kenya, The Gambia and the United States.

This new trial will investigate whether the vaccine, which attacks the malaria parasite as it passes through the human liver, can significantly reduce the prevalence of prevent malaria in children living in an area where transmission of the disease is known to be high.

Up to 90 per cent of the population in Mozambique is at risk of malaria, which causes fever, headaches and flu-like symptoms, and kills more African children under the age of five than any other disease.

"Our team is committed to finding ways to prevent malaria," says Pedro Alonso, of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, Spain and scientific director of Mozambique's Centro de Investigaçao em Saude de Manhiça, which is collaborating in the research. "This trial is an important contribution to that effort, and brings us that much closer to the goal of immunising children against malaria."

Worldwide, more than 80 malaria vaccine candidates have been developed, and 16 have been tested in clinical trials. But a vaccine for the disease, which kills more than one million people a year, has so far remained elusive. This is partly because, unlike other diseases that have been tackled with vaccines, malaria is caused by a complex parasite, rather than a virus or a bacterium.

"We are excited about the progress this clinical trial represents for the entire malaria vaccine field," says Melinda Moree, director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, an organisation that aims to accelerate the development of promising malaria vaccine candidates, and one of the partners in the trial.

"It will give us critical information about the impact of a promising candidate vaccine for children and is a good example of the non-profit and public sectors partnering with industry for the global public good."

Results from the trial are expected in approximately two years.

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