Though there's still no guarantee the drug will make it to market, it is exciting news for researchers who've worked decades to figure out a way to thwart one of the most widespread and prolific diseases in the world. According the World Health Organization, the parasite infected 207 million people in 2012. Some 627,000 of those infected perished. Humans become infected with the disease via mosquitos which carry the parasite and transfer it when they bite.
"This is a key moment in GSK's 30-year journey to develop RTS,S," said Sophie Biernaux, head of the company's malaria vaccine program. "And brings us a step closer to making available the world's first vaccine that can help protect children in Africa from malaria."
Most of the world's malaria cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa, but peoples of the tropics all over the globe are at risk. The CDC refers to the disease as "one of the most severe public health problems worldwide."
The malaria parasite, which spawns the disease, produces more than 5,000 proteins during its lifetime, making it exceedingly difficult for researchers trying to figure which one to mimic in order to trigger an effective immune response from the body.
But scientists seemed to have finally located a combination of proteins that works, and if the EMA offers their approval, the drug will soon be available to some of the world's most vulnerable populations.
RTS,S has shown promise in trials ever since its earliest development in the 1990s. But recent studies suggest its efficacy might fade after four years. Still, even if RTS,S is only moderately effective, it would still be a boon to health officials looking to curb malaria in some of the poorest regions on Earth.