China prepares test kits against monkeypox, can develop 'vaccine within a year' if needed
Published: May 23, 2022 09:41 PM
Monkeypox Photo: VCG

Monkeypox Photo: VCG

As three European countries have imposed compulsory quarantines for monkeypox patients while Canada and the US reportedly placed orders for millions of doses of vaccines that are used against both smallpox and monkeypox, the Chinese public raised concerns over whether China would face the risk of monkeypox and if the country has preparations to protect people from being infected. 

Several Chinese test kit makers reached by the Global Times on Monday said they have developed nucleic acid test kits for monkeypox, which can be quickly put into mass production and on the domestic market once approved by the government. 

Meanwhile, experts pointed out that there are no technological problems in developing a vaccine against monkeypox and a rapid special review by China's drug administration could help the country develop the vaccine in roughly a year.

The monkeypox virus was first identified in humans in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970. Several weeks after being infected, individuals may experience symptoms including fever, headache, swelling of the lymph nodes, and muscle aches, which are followed several days later by a highly distinctive pustule rash.

WHO data showed that as of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox had been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for monkeypox virus, with no associated deaths to date.

The confirmed and suspected cases were mostly reported by the UK, Spain and Portugal, while the rest were from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and the US.

Belgium has become the first country to introduce compulsory 21-day quarantine for monkeypox patients after reporting four cases of the disease in the last week.

Later, the UK and the Netherlands also ordered a three-week quarantine for high-risk contacts of monkeypox patients. 

The US and Canada have respectively ordered 13 million and 500,000 doses of a vaccine that protects against monkeypox.

In response to Chinese public concerns, Tan Wenjie, chief scientist of the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, told media that the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) has made an emergency response technical plan on monkeypox, stocked monkeypox detection reagents, and conducted training on monkeypox nucleic acid PCR testing for provincial and municipal CDC professionals. 

The scientist noted that China has a long-term emergency stockpile of smallpox vaccine, and millions of doses of smallpox vaccine are readily available for emergency vaccination.

Historically, vaccination against smallpox had been shown to be protective against monkeypox. However, as the WHO declared the eradication of smallpox in 1980, cross-protective immunity from smallpox vaccination would be limited to elderly persons, and there is little immunity to monkeypox among younger people living in non-endemic countries since the virus has not been present there.

The vaccine against monkeypox could be developed based on sealed vaccinia and then be used in humans, Jiang Chunlai, a professor at Jilin University's School of Life Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

A vaccine made from vaccinia can protect people against monkeypox and would be a better choice for China than a vaccine targeting the monkeypox virus, the professor noted. 

Both the smallpox vaccine and the monkeypox vaccine can only be made as live attenuated vaccines, and to develop the latter from the beginning will take a very long time with larger uncertainty. It would take China roughly a year to develop the vaccine based on the sealed vaccinia, he explained. 

"There would be no technological problem for China to develop a vaccine that protects against monkeypox. The vaccine could quickly go through a government review if the situation became very urgent," Feng Duojia, president of the China Vaccine Industry Association, told the Global Times on Monday.

Chinese test kit maker Liferiver Bio-Tech announced on Sunday evening that its nucleic acid test kit for monkeypox has passed the CE certification in the EU and has received some domestic and international orders.

Several other test suppliers said that they have developed kits to detect monkeypox, including Jiangsu Bioperfectus Technologies, Daan Gene Co, Hybribio and Sansure Biotech. But most of these kits are currently only for disease control or research in China, since the domestic registration hasn't started yet. 

"We have released Monkeypox Virus Real Time PCR Kits to the international market, and the product has been put into use in national centers for disease control, national central laboratories and airport laboratories in more than ten countries and regions," a staffer at Jiangsu Bioperfectus Technologies told the Global Times on Monday. The company announced on Tuesday that they have received CE mark approval for its Monkeypox Virus Real Time PCR Kit.

The Global Times on Tuesday learned from an employee of Daan Gene Co that the company has also received the CE marking for its corresponding monkeypox test and is closely watching the situation for the domestic application of certificate registration for public use, which depends on China's market demand and national policies. 

The product could be put into mass production and the market very quickly after the government's approval, because the company can use the current production lines for making COVID-19 detection reagents, the employee noted.