The consortium brings together 25 leading researchers and scientists from 12 institutions across the UK, backed by £2m ($2.2m) from the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC), both part of UK Research and Innovation.
The consortium is led by The Pirbright Institute and the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research.
Enabling swift responses
The current worldwide outbreak of monkeypox was first identified in May 2022. This is the first time that many monkeypox cases and clusters have been reported in non-endemic areas.
The WHO reports it has spread to 106 countries and territories with 25 confirmed deaths. In the UK there have been more than 3,500 confirmed cases since May, although new case numbers are currently falling.
Researchers in the new consortium will work closely with experts at government agencies – the Animal and Plant Health Agency, UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), and Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) – to study the current outbreak and inform the public health response in the UK and internationally.
Professor Bryan Charleston, co-lead from The Pirbright Institute, said: “The implications of the current monkeypox outbreak are huge. As well as tackling the current outbreak, we also need to be fully prepared for the next outbreak, because worldwide there’s a huge reservoir of infection.
"One of the key ways we can do this is to develop rapid tests, which are very important to help clinicians on the front line to manage the disease.”
Professor Geoffrey Smith, from the University of Cambridge, added: “Few would have predicted that monkeypox virus would be causing a global epidemic in 2022. The ability to respond quickly to this new challenge has been helped greatly not just by the swift and welcome response of UKRI, but also by decades of support for the study of orthopoxviruses from UKRI and the Wellcome Trust.
Consortium members include:
- Animal and Plant Health Agency
- Guy’s and St. Thomas NHS Foundation Trust
- Imperial College London
- MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research
- The Pirbright Institute
- UK Health Security Agency
- University of Birmingham
- University of Cambridge
- University of Edinburgh
- University of Oxford
- University of Surrey
"The information gained from those studies is valuable in the fight against monkeypox virus.”
Scope of the consortium
The consortium will focus on building understanding across a number of key areas.
One will be to learn from the rollout of vaccines against monkeypox: studying the effectiveness of the smallpox vaccine by tracking the immune responses after primary and secondary vaccination of up to 200 individuals.
Another is to develop new tests and control measures, such as:
- Developing sensitive point-of-care tests to speed up diagnosis, such as lateral flow tests or LAMP* tests. The lateral flow test development will be conducted with Global Access Diagnostics (GADx) to develop a product which could later be manufactured at scale and used clinically worldwide, including in low/middle income countries.
- Screening potential drugs to treat monkeypox in human cells in the lab to determine which ones could be developed for further testing.
- Studying the virus, how it infects humans and its susceptibility to the immune response to identify targets for future therapies.
The partnership will also characterize the genome of the virus and how it is evolving: and the link to changes in the transmission and pathology of the virus. It will also seek to understand the human immune response to both virus and vaccine; as well as identifying animal reservoirs and potential spill-over routes of transmission between animals and humans.