Bavarian Nordic Wins Contract for Monkeypox Vaccine

20.05.2022 - As Europe and North America face a potential monkeypox outbreak, Danish biotech Bavarian Nordic has won a contract to supply its smallpox vaccine to an unnamed European country.

The shot branded in Europe as Imvanex, as Jynneos in the US and Imavune in Canada can be deployed to prevent infection with the virus that is closely related to the variola virus that causes smallpox and is endemic in Africa. In North America, the vaccine carries a label specifically covering monkeypox. In Europe it is only approved for smallpox but in the past has been deployed off-label in response to the disease.

Considered relatively rare outside Africa, the monkeypox virus has been detected over the past month in more than 20 people in Portugal, England and Spain. The first document case in the current outbreak was reported in England on May 7 in a person who had traveled from Nigeria.

In Africa, the disease is spread by rodents and small animal bites. In Europe, Bavaria said most of the infections have been seen in gay men, similar to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In the US, one case has been confirmed in Massachusetts in a man who had traveled from Canada. No cases have been confirmed north of the border but several are under investigation by authorities in Montreal.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the monkeypox virus has two distinct genetic codes, the Congo Basin and the West African clades, with the former more transmissible and virulent. WHO estimates the fatality rate altogether at 1-10%, slightly higher among children. It believes that people younger than 40 to 50 may be more susceptible as routine smallpox vaccines were halted after that disease was declared eradicated in 1980.

The world’s only known copy of the smallpox virus is kept under immense security at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.

In the US, monkeypox represents a public health urgency, but not an emergency, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s poxvirus and rabies branch told a US magazine, while a senior scientist in health security noted that the disease is not highly transmissible and unlikely to cause large outbreaks, due to its long incubation period of up to 21 days. According to WHO, smallpox vaccines like Bavarian Nordic’s are at least 85% effective at preventing monkeypox before exposure.

Nevertheless, the speed at which these recent cases have evolved, combined with the potential for infections beyond the initial case going undetected, calls for a rapid and coordinated approach by health authorities, Bavarian Nordic CEO Paul Chaplin said.

As a global leader in smallpox vaccines, the Danish biotech is a long-term supplier to the US government. Its portfolio also contains vaccines against rabies and tick-borne encephalitis. Using its MVA-BN live virus vaccine platform technology, the company has developed a diverse portfolio of proprietary and partnered product candidates, including an Ebola vaccine licensed to Johnson & Johnson’s pharma arm Janssen.

Bavarian Nordic is currently rolling out a freeze-dried version of Jynneos to the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the country’s Strategic National Stockpile.

Additionally, the company said it is committed to the development of a next-generation Covid-19 vaccine and a vaccine against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). For both candidates it will have three clinical trials in progress during 2022.

Author: Dede Williams, Freelance Journalist