- Moderna will research vaccines to prevent monkeypox, announcing Monday plans to begin preclinical testing of candidates targeting the virus, which has triggered global alarms after spreading in recent weeks to countries where it's typically not found.
- The COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer's announcement comes one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is in the process of distributing doses from its supply of Bavarian Nordic's smallpox vaccine Jynneos to immunize high-risk contacts of people who've recently been infected with monkeypox.
- The World Health Organization has identified monkeypox, which usually spreads to humans through contacts with infected animals, as a disease of global public health importance. Moderna said its plan to develop a vaccine for the virus follows through on a commitment it made in March to advance vaccine candidates for 15 pathogens of major public health risk by 2025.
While still small, the monkeypox outbreak has raised concerns as governments around the world are still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Monkeypox is likely not as transmissible between humans as the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. An expert adviser to the WHO told the Associated Press that a leading theory about this outbreak is that it was caused by close contact at music events in Europe.
As of May 21, the World Health Organization reported 92 laboratory-confirmed infections in 12 countries where monkeypox is not endemic, with another 28 suspected.
The virus has infected hundreds of people in Nigeria in recent years, and it has been reported in people who have traveled from Nigeria to other countries. Vaccination could help limit the current outbreak and the virus' spread in new areas.
Jynneos is a live virus vaccine designed to both stimulate an immune response but also be too weak to replicate and spread. Its approval as a protective shot against smallpox was based on how well it spurred virus-fighting antibodies in humans compared with another smallpox shot called ACAM, as well as how well it controlled monkeypox in macaque monkeys exposed to the virus.
Moderna specializes in vaccines and therapeutics that use messenger RNA to trigger the production of certain proteins in cells; the COVID-19 vaccine Spikevax, for example, stimulates cells to make the coronavirus' signature spike protein to spur an immune response.
Scientists who've studied monkeypox have identified several proteins on the virus to which macaque antibodies bind strongly, giving researchers working with newer vaccine technologies like mRNA some potential targets.
A Moderna spokesperson didn't respond to questions about what technology it plans on using nor what proteins it plans to target with a vaccine.