US firm picks Kenya for monkeypox vaccine trials


Kenya has joined the race to produce a vaccine for monkeypox, a fast-spreading infection whose outbreak constitutes a global health emergency, the World Health Organization's highest alert level.

US-based pharmaceutical firm Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp said last week it will embark on Kenya-based clinical trials for monkeypox vaccine in conjunction with Kenyan researchers.

“Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Corp. (Tonix), a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, today announced collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) to plan, seek regulatory approval for and conduct a Phase 1 clinical study in Kenya to develop TNX-8011 as a vaccine to protect against monkeypox and smallpox,” it said in a statement.

The US firm said the study to be jointly conducted with Kemri is expected to start in the first half of 2023.

“Kemri is excited to plan this clinical trial with Tonix, and ultimately to lead the trial,” said Kemri director general Professor Samuel Kariuki.

While monkeypox is not causing large numbers of deaths globally, an unpleasant virus establishing itself in new populations is still bad news, scientists said.

The rapidly spreading monkeypox outbreak constitutes a global health emergency, the World Health Organization's highest alert level, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said recently.

Monkeypox is a viral zoonosis (a virus transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms very similar to those seen in the past in smallpox patients, although it is clinically less severe, says WHO.

Scientists say monkeypox is spreading chiefly through sexual experiences, putting sexual health clinics on alert for new cases.

The global outbreak of monkeypox, which causes smallpox-like skin lesions but is not usually fatal, surfaced on 7 May in the United Kingdom.

Scientists say monkeypox is endemic in 10 countries in West and Central Africa, with dozens of cases this year in Cameroon, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The announcement of the Nairobi vaccine trials cements Kenya as a vaccine research hub. Kenya is not a stranger to efforts for local vaccine production.

Kenya participated in the successful global efforts for a vaccine for Covid-19 in conjunction with the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust in the UK.

The American biotechnology giant Moderna said earlier in March it expects to invest about $500 million (Ksh57.5 billion) in the Kenyan vaccines manufacturing facility and supply as many as 500 million doses of mRNA vaccines to the African continent each year.

Local vaccine production can earn Kenya billions of shillings each year in additional investments, savings and revenue, the Lancet medical journal said recently in a study.

The journal ranked Kenya a top candidate for vaccine manufacturing globally ahead of India and South Africa citing its strategic advantages in traditional research capacity as well as distribution logistics.

The study by the medical journal assessed the case for investing in clinical trials and manufacturing capacity for three middle-income countries including India, Kenya, and South Africa.

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