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Effectiveness of safer smallpox vaccine demonstrated against monkeypox

pecial proteins that help alert killer T cells to an infection. The findings indicate that MVA may be a promising alternative to Dryvax in humans who are partially immunodeficient.

Licensed in 1931, Dryvax is made from a live form of vaccinia virus that, although related to the smallpox virus, cannot cause smallpox. (Smallpox is caused by the more dangerous variola virus. The ability to prevent smallpox by injecting a person with either cowpox or vaccinia virus was demonstrated by Edward Jenner in the late 18th century.) Dryvax and similarly effective vaccines made in other countries led to the eradication of smallpox in 1980.

While most reactions to the Dryvax vaccine are relatively mild, some people may have more serious complications. Individuals at risk for such complications include those with weakened immune systems or skin conditions such as eczema, infants less than 12 months of age and women who are pregnant. For this reason, a primary goal of health officials is to develop a vaccine that is as effective as Dryvax, but safer.

MVA is a highly weakened form of the vaccinia virus that cannot multiply and infect mammalian cells. Although MVA was tested for safety in humans at the time of its development in Germany in the 1960s, it has not been tested for effectiveness against smallpox. According to the Food and Drug Administration, humans cannot be exposed to smallpox to test a vaccine's effectiveness: such exposure is unethical because smallpox is an infectious, deadly disease; and it is unfeasible because smallpox has been eradicated. Therefore, animal studies, such as those involving monkeys and mice, are critical to the development of a replacement vaccine.

To compare MVA with Dryvax, the researchers divided 24 cynomologus monkeys (a type of monkey found in Southeast Asia, Borneo and the Philippines) into four groups of six. Group one received two MVA injections--one at the start of the study and the second two months later
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Contact: Jennifer Wenger
jwenger@niaid.nih.gov
301-402-1663
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
10-Mar-2004


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