A promising malaria vaccine gives babies and young children significant protection against the deadly disease, suggest two clinical trials to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In the first study of the Phase 2 trials, 894 children aged five to 17 months were given the vaccine. Researchers found it reduced the risk of episodes of malaria by 53 per cent over an eight-month followup period and had few side-effects.

The second study followed 340 infants under 12 months of age and found  the vaccine, when given at eight, 12, and 16 weeks of age with a commonly used childhood vaccine, did not interfere with the protective immune responses to each of the vaccine components.

It is the first malaria vaccine to make it this far, and if further studies are successful, marketing approval could be sought as early as 2011. The vaccine was developed by the British-based GlaxoSmithKline PLC.

"Today's study results strongly show that our investments in developing malaria vaccines are beginning to pay dividends," Christian Loucq, director of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, said in a news release.

The non-profit group was established to help develop malaria vaccines and make sure they're available where needed.

The group teamed up with GlaxoSmithKline, and both paid for the vaccine studies.

Malaria, or P. Falciparum infection, kills almost one million people each year. Most are infants and young children in Africa.

The disease is caused by a parasite and spread through a bite from an infected mosquito. The parasite travels quickly to the liver, where it matures, enters the bloodstream and causes fever, chills, flu-like symptoms and anemia.

The vaccine is designed to attack the parasite before it can infect the liver.

With files from the Associated Press