By Jeff Brown, WBZ NewsRadio 1030

BOSTON (CBS) – A major drug maker is making strides against malaria and a local biotech company is a big part of that success.

Agenus Bio of Lexington has been working for years with drug giant GlaxoSmithKline on development of a malaria vaccine.

That vaccine has just gotten a critical approval from European regulators. To understand how the vaccine works, is to understand what Agenus brings to the table.

WBZ’s Jeff Brown asked co-founder and chairman Dr. Garo Armen about the magic ingredient.

“It makes the immune response more powerful, and that’s where we come in as a company,” Dr. Armen says. “A booster of the immune system and it’s a very integral part of this product. Without it, it is very likely this product would not have worked.”

And to understand how Agenus got here we need to take a look back:

“This was discovered by one of our scientists in the mid ’90’s,” he says.

And it took more than 20 years for Agenus and GSK to get here.

“The importance of this particular vaccine is that it is the very first malaria vaccine ever in the world,” he said.

And a breakthrough for the Lexington company.

“It’s the first product where our Adjuvent QS-21 is now going to be approved.”

Some 200 million people around the world suffer from malaria every year and this vaccine could stop the disease in its tracks.

“The chances of contracting malaria declines by approximately 50 percent,” he says.

Dr. Armen says a successful vaccine needs to do two things.

“The vaccination field has evolved into now one to preventive course and two to potentially cure disease,” he says.

Make no mistake, malaria is a killer. Dr. Armen says 2000 children die of every day of malaria.

So the hope is to make a lot of vaccines.

“We hope that the penetration rate for the vaccine would be very high because of the ability to impact potentially some proportion of the 2000 deaths every day for children,” he says.

According to reports, there will be no profits made by either Glaxo or Agenus with this vaccine.


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