Sobering thoughts arise when contemplating the review of HIV vaccine failure in the Washington Post. Not only have vaccine candidates to date failed, there is even evidence that they put people at greater risk by stimulating receptivity of target cells to HIV invasion. Have decades of research dollars, notably over $500 million, been wasted? The Washington Post quotes Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus, as saying “This is on the same level of catastrophe as the Challenger disaster” (the NASA/USA Space Shuttle disaster).
Efforts to find a malaria vaccine have also spanned decades. A new review of the status of malaria vaccine research by Pizon-Charry and Good concludes that, “the disappointing results of clinical trials have resulted in reappraisal of current strategies. Whole-parasite approaches have re-emerged as an alternative strategy.”
The Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) is a little more upbeat about vaccine prospects and feels that “government, industry, and academia partners” may be able to solve the problem. At the same time they do caution that, “There has, however, never been a vaccine developed against a complex multi-stage parasite. Since malaria is caused by such an organism, developing a vaccine to prevent it is especially challenging.” While MVI talks of accelerating malaria vaccine development, it appears cautious also on predicting a date when such may become a reality.
Much of the talk of malaria eradication seems based on the assumption that a malaria vaccine will be in place at some time in the foreseeable future. We hope researchers succeed sooner than later. In the meantime people should not put away their bednets and stop the search for new anti-malaria drugs. At least so far the existing malaria vaccine candidates do not appear to have increased people’s risk of getting malaria.