Tags: China | Coronavirus | monkey | vaccine | treatment | nih | testing

US Faces Monkey Shortage as Scientists Race to Find Virus Vaccine

lab worker in a white labcoat and gloves holds a baby monkey
A laboratory employee holding a baby monkey at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand on May 23, 2020. (Mladen Antonov/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 31 August 2020 01:25 PM

As scientists race to come up with coronavirus treatments and vaccines, they are facing a shortage of monkeys to test their products on, The Atlantic reports.

Monkeys are a key component of the drug approval process. Before a human can receive a treatment or vaccine, it is typically tested on a monkey. And scientists say there just aren’t enough monkeys available.

“Nationally, there is basically a big shortage,” Koen Van Rompay, an infectious disease scientist at the California National Primate Research Center, told The Atlantic.

The shortage is being caused by several factors. According to the outlet, coronavirus has placed an extraordinary demand on the need for the primates, which were already in short supply. On top of the added need, China has dropped its supply to the U.S. because of the pandemic and ongoing trade wars. Last year, 60% of the close to 35,000 monkeys imported to the U.S. came from China, according to The Atlantic.

“We can’t find any rhesus any longer. They’ve completely disappeared,” Mark Lewis, the CEO of Bioqual, a contract research organization that specializes in animal testing, told The Atlantic.

Scientists in all types of fields are competing for the same small pool of monkeys.

A 2018 National Institutes of Health report indicated that the NIH-funded National Primate Research Centers would not be able to meet future demand. The report discussed creating a “strategic monkey reserve” to provide “surge capability for unpredictable disease outbreaks.” But the reserve was never created.

In addition to the monkey shortage, any monkeys infected with coronavirus must be kept inside an Animal Biosafety Level 3 lab. The lab is specially equipped to prevent the spread of disease and there are only a limited number of labs in the country, The Atlantic reports. 

The shortage of monkeys and places to test them is preventing companies looking to test possible treatments from conducting their research. Van Rompay said he has to turn down weekly calls and emails from companies trying to test their COVID-19 treatments. Other non-virus research has totally been put on a back burner.

“I have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry, we are not allowed to start your research,’” he said.

The NIH is calling the shots on which studies can use National Primate Research Centers under a public-private initiative called Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines, or ACTIV.

Monkeys are used to test medications because their immune systems are so close to humans. JoAnne Flynn, a vaccine researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, told The Atlantic that monkeys are a good model for testing the effectiveness of a vaccine candidate.

Because of the shortage, some pharmaceutical companies are looking into whether they can skip testing primates and head straight into human trials instead.

Linda Marbán, the CEO of the biotech company Capricor Therapeutics, told The Atlantic her company originally tried to test its vaccine candidates at the California primate center, but couldn’t get in. Now, she is looking to see if she can just begin a human trial.

The shortage of monkeys isn’t expected to let up any time soon either. Scientists say it will take years to breed more monkeys and the initiative will require regular funding.

“There needs to be a real national investment to build the infrastructure, not only for this pandemic, but also for the future with the next pandemic,” Jay Rappaport, the director of the Tulane National Primate Research Center, told The Atlantic.

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As scientists race to come up with coronavirus treatments and vaccines, they are facing a shortage of monkeys to test their products on, The Atlantic reports. Monkeys are a key component of the drug approval process. Before a human can receive a treatment or vaccine, it is...
monkey, vaccine, treatment, nih, testing, research
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2020-25-31
Monday, 31 August 2020 01:25 PM
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