Moderna tunes vaccine platform to next potential viral threat: monkeypox

As cases of monkeypox continue to creep up worldwide, Moderna is turning its vaccine platform towards finding a jab to defend against the disease.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts biopharma, responsible for one of the most effective COVID-19 vaccines on the market, announced plans to explore potential vaccines for monkeybox at a “preclinical level," according to a Monday announcement.

Global health officials are on high alert as cases of the viral infection tick upward. So far, U.S. officials have been walking a fine line between cautious optimism and taking the spread seriously. President Joe Biden on Sunday said the virus is something that “everybody should be concerned about” while his COVID Response Coordinator, Ashish Jha, said it was likely something the government could contain. 

Monkeypox is a zoonotic virus that spreads mostly among animals but has been endemic in a few countries in Africa for a number of years, including Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. Until now, cases that have cropped up in Europe have by and large been directly tied to travel. Now, health officials are identifying more widespread transmission.

Because of the similarity between the two diseases, the vaccine for smallpox has been found to also be effective against monkeypox. So far, there are two approved vaccines in the U.S. for smallpox, made by Acambis (since bought by Sanofi) and Bavarian Nordic.


Moderna's preclinical exploration on a monkeypox jab will join the famed biotech's work on a host of vaccines beyond COVID, including shots to defend against the flu, common cold and RSV. 

Unlike COVID-19, which spreads primarily through airborne transmission and the passing of small droplets, monkeypox is contracted through close physical contact. People who contract the disease often develop a rash that is contagious to the touch, according to Rosamund Lewis, M.D, secretariat of the World Health Organization’s smallpox team. 

So far, at least 92 cases have been confirmed in 21 countries where the disease isn’t normally found, plus an additional 28 cases under investigation. In the U.S., one case has been confirmed in Massachusetts and four other cases of orthopoxvirus, the genius encompassing monkeypox, have been identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.