Macaques are the species of monkey most used to test Covid-19 vaccines. Today it is increasingly difficult to find a specimen to continue with the research.
What is needed to develop a safe and effective vaccine against Covid-19?
In addition to thousands of hours of research, state-of-the-art technology and a team of experts, there is an input as controversial as it is ignored, vital for the advancement of any vaccine development: laboratory animals.
Although most animal research is carried out with rodents, the next step to test the effectiveness and safety of a compound in the laboratory is to supply it to one of the animals most similar to human beings: the primates.
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The macaques (Macaca mulatta) are the primate most used in laboratory tests around the world.
These animals share the 93% of their DNA with our species and therefore, before any clinical trial with humans, all vaccine prototypes against Covid-19 are tested in non-human primates (PNH), the name by which the specimens are known for medical research.
And although it is common for vaccines to be tested in primates, the race to develop immunizations against Covid-19 in record time has caused a macaque shortage which is holding back promising research.
In an unprecedented event, laboratories in the United States are running out of macaques for clinical trials, a measure celebrated by animal associations, but which puts in risk the development of vaccines and stops the progress of your investigation.
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In February 2020, just after the WHO declared the Covid-19 outbreaks a pandemic, China (the main exporter of macaques to the world) closed the market to the United States, which has since used a few 31,500 non-human primates arranged in seven specialized centers throughout the country.
However, this figure is reaching historic lows after vaccines from big pharmaceutical companies like Moderna or Pfizer requested more and more primates to continue their research.
Macaques are not only used to make vaccines and antivirals associated with the coronavirus, are also crucial in HIV-related research, the majority currently under arrest due to the current context.
Also, given the scarcity of primates, the cost of macaques has shot more than double (about $ 10,000 each), a new and unthinkable obstacle to getting a vaccine that dramatically increases the budget for research and compromises the future of testing.
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