Growing concern about the emergence of monkeypox in Europe and the U.S. has sent shares soaring for several vaccine and drug companies.
Though infections are rarely reported outside of Central and West Africa, 92 cases have been confirmed this month in regions where the monkeypox virus is not endemic, including Europe and the U.S., as of Saturday, according to the World Health Organization .
At least three cases have been confirmed in the U.S. over the past year, including one in an adult male who recently traveled from Canada to Massachusetts. (No deaths have been reported.)
By last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to healthcare providers about the recent clusters of cases, and President Joe Biden weighed in, saying monkeypox “is something that everybody should be concerned about.”
Several companies that developed smallpox vaccines or therapeutics have seen their shares prices jump, and some of those drug makers may be familiar to investors who paid close attention to stocks that got a boost in early 2020 after China first disclosed the outbreak of the new coronavirus that was eventually identified as SARS-CoV-2.
GeoVax Labs Inc. (NAS:GOVX) , which saw its shares soar 70% in afternoon trading on Monday. The company, which has no authorized or approved products, focuses on modified vaccinia ankara-based (MVA) technology. “A key point to also consider is that when monkeypox surfaced, health authorities went straight to MVA; proven efficacy, safety, and durability,” Maxim Group’s Jason McCarthy told investors. “This is validating for MVA as a platform and GeoVax, in particular.” GeoVax has been developing COVID-19 vaccines, including a booster and a vaccine for people who are immunocompromised, though those shots are still Phase 2 clinical trials.
Emergent Biosolutions Inc. (NYS:EBS) , whose stock gained 7.3% in trading on Monday. Emergent has a FDA-approved smallpox vaccine called ACAM2000; the company also announced last week that it purchased the exclusive rights to Chimerix Inc.’s (NAS:CMRX) antiviral smallpox treatment, Tembexa, in a deal worth up to $337.5 million, plus royalties. “Emergent now offers the widest product line to combat a monkeypox/smallpox outbreak in the US and worldwide,” Benchmark’s Robert Wasserman wrote in a note to investors last week. Emergent ran into manufacturing issues for the Johnson & Johnson (NYS:JNJ) COVID-19 vaccine in the first of the pandemic that slowed down the rollout of the pharmaceutical giant’s shot.
Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NAS:INO) , which recently scrapped plans for its COVID-19 vaccine and let go of its CEO . Its stock was up 4% on Monday. Back in 2010 the company said it had put an experimental smallpox vaccine in a preclinical study evaluating its efficacy against monkeypox. The last time Inovio updated investors about the trial was in 2011.
There has also been a flurry of activity for another group of vaccine and drug makers, including:
Siga Technologies Inc. (NAS:SIGA) , which saw its shares decline 8.0% in trading on Monday. The company last week received FDA approval for an intravenous formulation of Tpoxx, its smallpox treatment. That treatment is already approved in Canada, Europe, and the U.S. as an oral therapy. Earlier this month, the company said the Department of Defense awarded a $7.5 million contract to buy doses of oral Tpoxx.
Bavarian Nordic (OTC:BVNKF) , which saw shares drop 4.6% on Monday afternoon. The company has a MVA vaccine for smallpox and monkeypox that is called Jynneos, Imvamune, or Imvanex. It said last week that the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority exercised its option to buy 13 million doses of Jynneos for $119 million.
While there is overlap between the companies that have said they are developing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and those who also have worked on smallpox and monkeypox vaccines and treatments, there are several key differences between SARS-CoV-2 and monkeypox infections, including the level of U.S. preparedness.
The U.S. has already stockpiled smallpox vaccines, which can protect against monkeypox, to vaccinate the entire population of the U.S., according to Raymond James analysts.
“We have vaccines against it,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, told “The Week” on Sunday. “We have treatments against it. And it is spread very differently than SARS-CoV-2. It is not as contagious as COVID. So, I am confident we’re going to be able to keep our arms around it.”
The first case of monkeypox reported in a human was detected 50 years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the first monkeypox outbreak in the U.S. was in 2003, when approximately 43 people in six states had confirmed cases as a result of contact with pet prairie dogs who had been housed near imported animals from Ghana, according to Raymond James analysts.
“Based on what we currently understand about the strain circulating, we believe the U.S. is far more prepared for monkeypox outbreaks than it has been for some other infectious diseases,” the Raymond James analysts told investors this week.
The S&P 500 (S&P:SPX) is down 18.1% this year.