Innovation/Global Crisis Blog

  Malaria Vaccine Breakthrough – Why Microsoft Exists

By Shlomo Maital


Glaxo CEO Andrew Witty

Malaria kills nearly 800,000 African children yearly.  Microsoft founder Bill Gates has committed much of his wealth, through his and wife Melinda’s Foundation, to combating it.  Results so far have been poor. Now comes this news:

    Malaria seemed closer to being thwarted as a world menace on Tuesday with the news of clinical trial results for a vaccine that would prevent the mosquito-borne disease from killing some of the nearly 800,000 African children it claims each year.  “A vaccine is the simplest, most cost-effective way to save lives,” said billionaire Bill Gates, cochairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the research and the clinical trials conducted in seven African countries with 15,460 children.     

   According to a professor of epidemiology quoted on the BBC World Service, the new vaccine provides 50 % protection.  This is far less than the 95% protection most vaccines provide, he noted, but it is the first time in history that a vaccine has proved effective against a parasitic disease, which is what malaria is (a parasite transmitted by mosquitos).    Chances are, the vaccine will be improved, once the mechanism through which it prevents parasitic infection is fully understood. 

   Kudos to Glaxo Smith Wellcome, the drug company which has partnered in this venture, and which has agreed to accept minimal 5 % profit margins on the vaccine when it is commercialized.  Glaxo’s CEO Andrew Witty said his firm would try to keep the cost under $10 per dose, and that it would re-invest all the 5% profit into research on malaria and other such diseases.  An expert at America’s National Institutes for Health noted that in the past there have been commercial vaccines with only 50% effectiveness.   

   Many of us have been critical of Microsoft’s products, monopolistic behavior and amazing lack of innovative skill.  Perhaps we now understand why G-d created Microsoft – to help combat malaria.  As the Bible says, the wheels of G-d grind slow, but exceedingly fine….    Even if the overly heavy MS software and Windows ‘kill’ us, saving all those children might be worth it.    Yet it is distressing that the $10 per dose price of the new vaccine might still be too high.  Apparently, in our world, the life of an (African) child is still not worth even ten bucks.  How sad.