Mark Lewis was desperate to find the monkeys. Millions of human lives were at stake worldwide.
Mr. Lewis, the chief executive of Biocal, was responsible for providing pharmaceutical companies such as laboratory monkeys Moderna And Johnson and johnson, Which required animals to develop their Kovid-19 vaccines. But when coronovirus flowed into the United States last year, there were exclusively bred monkeys found anywhere in the world.
Unable to furnish scientists with monkeys, which could cost more than $ 10,000, about a dozen companies were left to research animals at the height of the epidemic.
“We lost work because we could not supply the animals in the deadline,” Mr. Lewis said.
The world needs monkeys, whose DNA is similar to humans to develop the Kovid-19 vaccine. But a global shortage, resulting in unforeseen demand due to the epidemic, has recently banned the sale of wildlife from China, the major supplier of laboratory animals.
The latest shortage has revived talk about creating a strategic monkey reserve in the United States, an emergency reserve that is maintained by the government for oil and grain.
As new variants of coronovirus threaten to make the current batch of vaccines obsolete, scientists are rushing to find new sources of monkeys, and the United States is re-acknowledging its dependence on China, its own With biotech ambitions.
American scientists have discovered private and government-funded facilities in Southeast Asia as well as in Southeast Asia for shares of their favorite test subjects, rhesus macaques and cynomolgus macaques, in Mauritius, a small island nation Also known as long-lasting macaques.
But no country can be prepared for what China had previously supplied. Prior to the epidemic, China provided more than 60 percent of the 33,818 primate, mostly Cynomolgus macaques, imported to the United States in 2019, according to analyst estimates based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are 25,000 lab monkeys in the United States – primarily pink-faced rhesus macaques – at its seven major centers. About 600 to 800 of those animals have been under coronovirus research since the epidemic began.
Scientists say that monkeys are ideal samples for conducting research on coronovirus vaccines before testing them on humans. Primes share more than 90 percent of our DNA, and their similar biology means they can be tested with a nasal swab and their lungs scanned. Scientists say it is nearly impossible to find an alternative to test Kovid-19 vaccines, although drugs such as Dexamethasone, President Donald J. Steroids, used to treat Trump, have been tested in hamsters.
The United States once relied on India to supply rhesus macaques. But in 1978, India Stopped its export The Indian press reported that monkeys were being used in military trials in the United States. Pharmaceutical companies look for alternatives.
Eventually, they landed on China.
The epidemic upset a decades-old relationship between American scientists and sugar suppliers.
“When the China market closed, just about everyone was forced to go to a small number of available animals,” Mr. Lewis said.
Over the years, many airlines including major US carriers have also Refuse to take animals Used in medical research due to opposition from animal rights activists.
Meanwhile, the price of a cynomolgus monkey has more than doubled to $ 10,000 compared to a year ago, Mr. Lewis said. Scientists researching treatment for other diseases, including Alzheimer’s and AIDS, say their work has been delayed because the preference for animals goes to coronovirus researchers.
This shortage has led an increasing number of American scientists to call on the government to ensure a continued supply of animals.
Skip Boehm, Associate Director and Chief Veterinary Officer at Tulane National Primate Research Center outside New Orleans, Said that discussions for a strategic monkey reserve began about 10 years ago among the directors of National Monkey Research Centers. But a repository was not created because of the money and time required to create a breeding program.
Professor Bohm said, “Our idea was like a strategic oil reserve, which had a lot of fuel somewhere that would only be tapped in an emergency,”.
But as new variants of the virus have been discovered, possibly restarting a vaccine race, scientists say the government needs to act on the stockpile immediately.
“The strategic monkey reserve is exactly what we needed to deal with Kovid, and we simply did not have it,” said Keith Reeves, a principal investigator at the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard Medical School.
But a strong strategic reserve may still be unable to meet the skyrocketing demand for lab animals, as researchers in China have learned. Even with a government-controlled stockpile of about 45,000 monkeys, researchers in China say they are also grappling with a shortage.
Researchers often collect hundreds of samples from a single monkey, whose tissues can be frozen for years and studied for a long time. Scientists say they use each animal the most, but monkeys infected with Kovid-19 cannot be returned to live among other healthy animals and must eventually be given euthanasia.
In January, Shen Weiguo, general manager of Shanghai Technology Venture Capital Group, told local legislators that according to a state news media report, the city had three large biomedical companies with 2,750 research monkeys last year. Mr. Shen said that this decrease is expected to increase by 15 percent annually over the next five years.
Hubei Topgen Biotechnology raises monkeys for their own research and export. The United States was previously its top export destination, but the company does not currently have enough animals to conduct its own experiments, said Yan Shuo, a sales manager.
“Now, it’s not even a matter of money,” Mr. Yan said. “We don’t even have monkeys to sell abroad.”
The United States maintains seven national primate research centers, where animals, when not undergoing research, live in colonies with outlying areas and enrichment activities. The facilities are affiliated with research universities and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Animal rights activists have long accused the centers of abuse, including separating infants from their mothers.
Matthew R., president of the National Association for Biomedical Research. Bailey said he was preparing to lift the monkey shortage with the Biden administration. He said China’s decision to stop exports at the start of the epidemic was a “potential emergency step”, but suggested that exports given to China should resume, which are now known to have spread to the virus.
China’s foreign ministry said the ban was not targeted at specific species or countries.
“Once the international situation improves and the import and export conditions are met, “the ministry said in a statement,” China will actively consider resuming import and export approvals and other related actions. “
Experts said that the United States had to bear some responsibility for not doing enough research monkeys.
Budgets for national intimate centers have either remained flat or fallen for over a decade. Koen Van Rompe, an infectious disease specialist at the California National Primate Research Center, said the federal government asked the center to expand its reproductive colonies about 10 years ago, but it did not increase funding, so it allowed its colony to instead Reduced.
“We did in many cases that we gave birth control to our women,” Dr. Van Rompe said. “So fewer children will be born in the spring.”
In a panel organized by the National Institutes of Health in December 2018, scientists discussed the challenges facing America’s key supplies. Jeffrey Roberts, Associate Director of the California National Primate Research Center, said, “If China decides to ban China, then we’ll be in trouble.” ”
According to a meeting report, “attendees agreed that domestically Cynomolgus macaas are required for reproduction and could jeopardize biomedical research in the United States.” “He stressed that it may already be too late to meet this need but it will certainly be too late within a few months.”
Amber Wang And Elsie Chen Contributed to research.