The experimental vaccine Mosquirix lowers the risk of infection by the parasite that causes severe malaria by 46 per cent over 15 months, said research put out today online by The Lancet medical journal.
Malaria, which is passed to humans by infected mosquitoes, is one of the biggest killers of children in Africa. Among the 900,000 people killed by the disease across the continent every year, most are children aged under five.
Although the new Glaxo Smith Kline jab does not totally protect people from the disease, it still has the potential to save large numbers of lives.
Scientists running the trial at the Kenya Medical Research Institute said the results meant it had "promise as a potential public health intervention against childhood malaria in malaria endemic countries."
"Further studies are needed to establish vaccine efficacy in, for example, children with HIV infection or those who are malnourished,” said lead researcher Ally Olotu.
If the jab is proved to work in final-stage trials it could be licensed and rolled out as soon as 2015 and will be sold at a price that the people who need it most can afford, said Glaxo chief executive Andrew Witty.
The World Health Organisation's latest malaria report found that in the past 10 years the number of deaths from malaria was estimated to have dropped to 781,000 in 2009 from nearly a million in 2000.
Malaria is mostly found in warmer parts of the world. Many areas in sub-Saharan Africa are ideal climates for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. But another reason why Africa suffers from malaria more than most areas is because of its vicious cycle of poverty. The more often a family suffers from malaria the more a parent has to choose taking care of the child over working. The less money they make, the fewer the opportunity to get access to preventive medicine and education in cut-off areas.
In Uganda, most children and many adults cannot make it to the hospital to get treatment. In many cases, the drugs will not find their way to the villages.
Insecticide-treated mosquito nets, early detection, and treatment within the village setting are least costly and more widely available ways to date to protect a child.