UNITED KINGDOM – British health agencies have secured funding to develop a standardized approach to test the performance of vaccines being used or in development against monkeypox.

The funding comes days after the World Health Organization (WHO) labelled the growing monkeypox outbreak a global health emergency.

The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) said it would give up to US$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 standardized 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 signaled 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.

So far, there have been more than 16,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in more than 75 countries.

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 percent, 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.

According to CEPI CEO, Richard Hatchett, 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.

Bahrain receives monkeypox diagnostic kits from WHO

Elsewhere, Bahrain has secured monkeypox diagnostic kits completing the country’s readiness to combat the disease should it spread to the island from overseas.

The kingdom is among 20 countries in the region to receive the equipment and supplies from the World Health Organization (WHO), according to its regional officials.

In other news, CEPI has partnered with a consortium of research and technological institutions to fund the development of a novel vaccine to provide protection against COVID-19, as well other SARS-like Betacoronaviruses.

The novel coronavirus vaccine has been developed at Caltech and The University of Oxford. Funding of up to US$30 million will support vaccine design, its development through Phase I trials and regulatory activities.

Manufacturing efforts for the project will be led by the UK’s Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) using microbes engineered by biotechnology Ingenza Ltd.

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