To combat the devastating toll of malaria - which leads to 250 million cases and nearly one million deaths per year - scientists all over the world have been working for over 50 years to develop a vaccine. But the malarial parasite is of a formidable and elusive complexity. Today however, four main candidate vaccines are competing to be the world’s first malaria vaccine.
Among them, the vaccine developed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the global company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is nearing approval for widespread use. Its code name: RTS,S. The trials are immense: more than 15 000 children tested in 7 African countries.
But the RTS,S is also at the heart of a fierce political and scientific debate, fueled by researchers from rival teams who are critical of the antigen selected. They predict it will be inefficient in the short- or medium-term and suspect that GSK and Bill Gates, who invested USD 500 million, are lobbying for their vaccine to be the first on the market regardless of its efficacy. From the plateaux of the Dogon country to the bush of Burkina Faso and laboratories in Europe, like in a scientific thriller, we will follow the fascinating chronicles of the development of this first vaccine and the fierce debates it will provoke in the months to come.