WASHINGTON—Malaria, a wily scourge that kills from one to three million human beings each year, now finds itself associated with a victim of another sort: a 15-year-old, $100 million federally funded program to develop a vaccine against this ancient threat. Wracked by internal bickering, distracted by lawsuits and investigations, and stymied by a lack of progress, the Agency for International Development’s (AID) malaria project has fallen years behind in its’ search for an effective vaccine. With its future under a cloud, the project offers an unfortunate example of what can happen when a government agency outside the scientific mainstream embarks on a major research project.

The scientific challenges of developing such a vaccine are daunting. But they have taken a back seat in the last few years to a siring of administrative problems. Among the most notable are:

The prospect of a criminal indict ment of some AID program officials...

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