British agencies win CEPI funds to develop standard monkeypox tools

Illustration shows test tubes labelled "Monkeypox virus positive\

LONDON (Reuters) -British health agencies have secured funding to develop a standardised approach to test the performance of vaccines being used or in development against monkeypox, days after the World Health Organization (WHO) labelled the growing outbreak a global health emergency.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said it would give up to $375,000 to the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to develop standard tools to assess the strength and duration of immune responses generated by current vaccines, and for tests used to detect monkeypox antibody levels.

Apart from administration fees, these tools will be made freely available to the global scientific community, paving the way for a common standardised assessment between countries documenting vaccine performance against monkeypox, CEPI said.

Until this year, the viral disease has rarely spread outside Africa where it is endemic. But reports of a handful of cases in Britain in early May signalled that the outbreak had moved into Europe. So far, there have been more than 16,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in more than 75 countries.

In many countries, health officials have been offering monkeypox vaccines to high-risk individuals and those that have recently been in close contact with an infected person.

Danish company Bavarian Nordic has the main vaccine being used to try to stem the outbreak, while an older vaccine, currently made by Emergent Biosolutions, has seen limited uptake due to a severe side-effect warning.

The smallpox and monkeypox viruses are closely related, and the first generation of smallpox vaccines appear up to 85% effective in preventing monkeypox, WHO has said.

Moderna, the maker of a leading mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, recently revealed that it has a monkeypox vaccine in very early stages of development.

The fatality rate in preceding monkeypox outbreaks in Africa of the strain currently spreading has been around 1%, but so far this outbreak appears to be less lethal in the non-endemic countries, many of which have stronger healthcare infrastructures.

Scientists are trying to determine what caused the initial spate of cases and whether anything about the virus has changed. Increased global travel as well as climate change have generally accelerated the emergence and spread of viruses, experts say.

The global impact of monkeypox requires the exploration of whether existing countermeasures, like currently stockpiled vaccines, will be enough to curb the further spread of monkeypox, CEPI CEO Richard Hatchett said.

(Reporting by Natalie Grover in London; Editing by Catherine Evans and Mark Porter)