New York-based pharmaceutical firm SIGA Technologies SIGA is among the companies to benefit from the growing threat of monkeypox, recently pushing its shares to an almost decade-high after the company obtained approval in Europe to use its TPOXX antiviral drug for the treatment of monkeypox.
Smallpox jabs vs monkeypox
On May 19, the World Health Organization declared that vaccines used against smallpox — before the virus was eradicated in 1980 — can be used to fight monkeypox. SIGA already won approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in 2018 to distribute its oral TPOXX capsules as a treatment against smallpox even when there were no reports of confirmed or possible cases of smallpox at the time.
US advances in vaccine orders
Most recently, SIGA on Thursday secured another approval from the FDA for the intravenous (IV) formulation of TPOXX for patients who are unable to swallow the drug’s oral variant. SIGA said the IV formulation of TPOXX has already been cited in the recent US president’s budget request to treat a patient with monkeypox in the US.
The company's shares surged 43% on Friday before paring gains to close 13% lower on the Nasdaq on Monday, and another 15.5% on Tuesday. SIGA stock remains up 26.5% over the past 5 days of trading.
SIGA also stands to benefit from TPOXX’s use in Canada and Europe, where cases of moneypox were detected in recent weeks. Europe has already approved the use of TPOXX against monkeypox, cowpox, and complications from immunization with vaccinia, the company said.
Growing monkeypox threat
Monkeypox, first discovered in 1958, is a viral illness that first occurred in colonies of monkeys. The first human case of the virus was recorded in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1970, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus can cause symptoms like fever, body aches, swollen lymph nodes and bumpy rashes.
Cases of monkeypox have so far been reported in at least 17 countries including the US, Canada, the UK, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and Australia.
Big pharma steps in
SIGA and another vaccine maker in Denmark, Bavarian Nordic BAVA, have kept samples of smallpox virus for research purposes in case of biological warfare. The emergence of monkeypox this year prompted both companies to start mass producing vaccines against smallpox to offer protection against monkeypox.
CDC officials on Monday said the US is in the process of releasing Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine doses to fight against monkeypox. The US has stockpiled more than 1,000 doses of the vaccine and CDC officials expect to boost their purchases in the coming weeks.
Bavarian Nordic’s shares on the Nasdaq Copenhagen surged to a four-month high on Monday.
The Danish company on May 18 said the US government has already placed a $119 million order for the production of freeze-dried Jynneos vaccines, although deliveries are not expected until 2023 and 2024.
Meanwhile, Moderna MRNA, which succeeded in developing vaccines against COVID-19, also started testing vaccines against monkeypox. The company on Tuesday said it is investigating potential vaccines against monkeypox in pre-clinical trials.
No urgent need for mass vaccinations
Although vaccines against monkeypox are already within reach just weeks into reports of an outbreak emerged, some experts and WHO officials say inoculations against monkeypox will not likely involve a mass campaign as the virus, unlike COVID-19, is not as contagious. Vaccinations would likely be focused only on people with close contact with infected individuals.
"If a case is reported in the country, a public health SWAT team goes out, finds out who the close contacts are of that first case, and vaccinates just those close contacts, and not the entire city or suburb,” Dr. David Freedman, professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama, was quoted by Time magazine as saying.
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