Monkeypox: Major trial aims to test anti-viral treatment ‘before Christmas’

An outline of a man in front of a pink background with monkeypox cells

Scientists behind a game-changing COVID-19 therapy trial are turning their attention to monkeypox.

The Oxford University team behind the RECOVERY trial – which honed in on four effective COVID treatments – is conducting a new £3.7 million trial for a potential monkeypox treatment, and are hoping for results by the end of the year.

Announced on Tuesday (23 August), the PLATINUM trial will test the effectiveness of SIGA Techonolgies’ tecovirimat – sold under the brand name Tpoxx.

Tpoxx has been cleared by the European Union and United Kingdom to treat diseases caused by the family of orthopoxvirus, which includes smallpox, monkeypox and cowpox, but due to limited trial data it is mostly used in severe cases in Britain.

In the United States and Canada, the drug is only approved to treat smallpox.

The trial is funded by a UK government grant and aims to recruit at least 500 participants. Those who take part in the trial will either be given a 14-day course of tecovirimat twice daily, or a placebo, reported Reuters.

The drug’s effectiveness will be monitored by checking the time it takes lesions to heal and how long until patients test negative for the virus – the number of patients who require hospitalisation due to complications will also be tracked. 

Sir Peter Horby, professor of emerging infections and global health at the University of Oxford and director of the new Pandemic Sciences Institute, said: “I’m hoping that we can have a result before Christmas, but it depends on the rate of recruitment.”

Currently, smallpox vaccines can be given post-exposure to lessen the effects of monkeypox (and pre-exposure to give some protection against the virus).

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a viral disease that has been declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

According to WHO symptoms of the virus include fever, rash and swollen lymph nodes, and catching it can lead to a range of medical complications. 

It is transmitted through close contact with “respiratory secretions, skin lesions of an infected person or recently contaminated objects”, says WHO. 

In the current outbreak, transmission is predominantly through close skin-to-skin contact, mostly through sex. The virus has mostly impacted queer men.

The UK has recently seen a fall in infection rates, thought to be a result of the UK’s vaccination programme. However, vaccines stocks are in short supply, with deliveries not expected until September.

A pilot programme which began on Monday (August 22) at a Manchester sexual health clinic aims to trial stretching supplies of the vaccination to protect more people in a method called “fractional dosing”. People will receive one-fifth of the usual dose, which is thought to be about as effective as a full dose.

Earlier this month the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, wrote for PinkNews on the urgent need for action to tackle the virus. 

The Labour MP for Ilford North said: “The government must step up and show it is meeting this issue with the urgency required.

“It is not good enough to wait for the conclusion of the leadership election and hand this over to the next government.”