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The UK’s efforts to tackle the monkeypox outbreak will receive a huge boost with the creation of a new research consortium and a new study to study vaccine effectiveness.

Monkeypox virus © SHUTTERSTOCK
NDORMS researchers are leading a study to investigate immune responses against monkeypox following vaccination with the Modified Vaccinia Ankara (MVA) vaccine, previously developed for the prevention of Smallpox. The IMOVA study will be lead by Dr Philip Drennan (Kennedy Trust Prize DPhil Student, Kennedy Institute) and will bring together researchers from within NDORMS (Prof Mark Coles, Associate Professor James Fullerton, Prof Duncan Richards, and Cushla Cooper), the Medical Sciences Division (Prof Tao Dong, Prof Helen McShane), UKHSA, and Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Dr Huda Fadzillah, Sexual Health).
The team will investigate both innate and adaptive immune responses to the vaccine, taking samples at various timepoints to establish how both acute and longitudinal responses respond to monkeypox virus, as well as determining the length of protection conferred by the vaccine.
Dr Drennan said: "We expect that MVA-BN will provide substantial protection against the monkeypox virus, but there remain numerous areas of uncertainty in its use. The IMOVA study will measure the immune response to the vaccine in a very detailed way over time, and the factors that affect this response. We hope that the results of this study will directly inform future efforts to control Monkeypox disease."
The study is funded by the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences Oxford Institute (COI, founded by Professor Tao Dong) and The Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology Research, and will be conducted in the NIHR Oxford Experimental Medicine Clinical Research Facility."

The news comes on the same day as a new consortium to tackle the outbreak is announced. It brings together 25 leading researchers and scientists from 12 institutions across the UK, with £2 million in funding from the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), both part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The consortium will be led by the Pirbright Institute and the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, but researchers from across University of Oxford will play a key role.

Professor Miles Carroll's group, based at the Pandemic Sciences Institute and the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, will be working with consortium colleagues on the development of a lateral flow device (LFD) for the rapid point of care diagnosis of MPXV.

Professor Tao Dong's group will lead in the understanding of T cell responses to the virus.

Read more about the consortium here.

Human monkeypox infection was first identified in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Since then, there have been numerous outbreaks within Africa where it is endemic. In May 2022, multiple cases of monkeypox were identified in several non-endemic countries. Since May, in the UK, there have been more than 3,400 confirmed cases and internationally the WHO reports that it has now spread to 50 countries and territories.

Monkeypox virus (MPXV) is transmitted from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials such as bedding. A member of the Orthopoxvirus genus in the family Poxviridae, monkeypox is closely related to the eradicated smallpox virus. While evidence suggests that smallpox vaccination can offer protection against monkeypox, the level of this cross-reactivity is currently unclear.

Investigations into immune responses to monkeypox will be critical to ensuring that we are able to control infection rates, avoiding a pandemic as was caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The knowledge gathered here will also be invaluable in the fight against future threats.