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New mpox vaccine being tested in the UK

Vaccine injection in arm

Published: 14 March 2024

A new mpox vaccine is being tested in the UK, as the virus continues to spread in many parts of the world. 

The mPower trial is testing the effectiveness of an investigational mRNA vaccine for mpox. The study is delivered by NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) and sponsored by Moderna.

Since 2022 there has been an increased transmission of mpox in the UK. Common symptoms of mpox include a rash with painful blisters, as well as fever, chills, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and sore throat. 

Mpox is spread through physical contact with someone who is currently infected. Anyone can get mpox, but cases in the UK have so far been predominantly in gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). 

The need for more vaccines

Mpox cases have significantly declined in the UK thanks to public health measures including the rapid rollout of vaccines by the NHS and sexual health services and a campaign geared towards mpox awareness and behavioural change. But the virus has continued to spread and remains a public health threat globally. 

In the UK and Europe there is only one vaccine licensed for immunisation against mpox. More are needed.

Dr Rajeka Lazarus, National Co-ordinating Investigator for the study said: “Mpox is a global public health threat, and more vaccines are urgently needed to prevent future outbreaks.

"Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we were overwhelmed with the generosity of volunteers who came forward to take part in a number of vaccine trials. Without them, the advances we’ve seen would not have been possible. It would be fantastic to see the same support for mpox research.

A call for ‘healthy’ volunteers

Researchers from University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust are hoping to recruit another 175 volunteers to the study, with plans to complete enrolment in April. 

They are looking for people who :

  • are between 18 and 49 years old
  • are in good medical health
  • have not been previously vaccinated for mpox or smallpox
  • have not had a suspected or confirmed mpox infection

Volunteers can take part at multiple sites across the UK.

The study is also using the Be Part of Research volunteer registry to find suitable participants. The first UK-wide registry for all health and care specialties, it makes finding and taking part in research easier than ever. It also helps researchers and sponsors recruit more quickly and effectively.

People interested in taking part in health and care research can register their details and will be sent information on studies taking place near them.

Moderna-UK Strategic Partnership

The mPower Trial is being undertaken as part of the Moderna-UK Strategic Partnership. This partnership is bringing mRNA vaccine manufacturing to the UK and building resilience to future health emergencies. 

Dr Matthew Hallsworth, NIHR Director of Strategic Partnerships, said: “We’re really pleased that Moderna has chosen to run its mpox trial in the UK. This demonstrates our strength in clinical research. 

“Our partnership with Moderna ensures UK research is at the cutting edge of new vaccine technologies with the potential to protect against global health threats such as mpox and future pandemics. We hope that recruitment to this trial will be as successful as the Covid-19 vaccine trials that were run in the UK and we encourage the public to help out where they can - whether that’s by volunteering or encouraging others.” 

Under the 10-year partnership with the government, Moderna has also committed substantial investment to research and development. This includes running a large number of clinical trials, such as this one, in the UK. 

Harun’s story

Harun Tulunay, a 36-year-old sexual health advocate, was exposed to the mpox virus in June 2022. At first the Londoner thought his symptoms - high fever, shivers and swollen lymph nodes - were due to Covid-19 or a flu. But as the painful blister on his face began to grow, from the size of a pimple to cover most of his nose, he started to worry it was something else. 

Eventually he was referred for an mpox test at a sexual health clinic. But before he could receive his results his symptoms worsened. Unable to eat or drink due to the lesions in his throat, he was admitted to hospital and treated with an antiviral drug, which was originally developed for smallpox.

“It was an unbearably painful experience,” Harun recalls.

Harun documented his 10-day hospital stay - sharing photos of himself online to help spread awareness of the virus. 

“People didn't know about mpox. I didn’t know about it,” he said. “It was really scary, so I started to share my journey. I showed my care from my room to show how amazing the hospital was. And since then I’ve been an advocate for mpox.”

Harun, who volunteered for Covid vaccine trials during the pandemic, is urging others to play a part in potentially preventing mpox. He hopes the mPower Trial will help widen the availability of vaccination in the UK and abroad. 

“As a man living with HIV, I took part in Covid trials and other trials to help other people - people really need to approach this from that perspective. 

“People who will participate in this trial will be part of advancing research that will maybe change lives. Being a part of that is such a great feeling - I know that from my own experience.”

Isabella’s story

Isabella, 29, is a clinical trials manager from East London. Despite helping to run studies at Queen Mary’s Blizard Institute, she has never taken part in one herself. 

When she heard that the mPower Trial was looking for ‘healthy’ volunteers, she decided to put herself forward for the jab. The news of the mpox outbreak was still very recent and she wanted to help where she could. 

“In pre-Covid days I might have been a bit cautious about clinical trials, even though I work in them myself. There’s something about signing up to receive an injection as a healthy volunteer that is perhaps a barrier and makes you think twice,” Isabella explained. “But I feel like we live in a world where everyone has more scientific awareness and knows a bit more about how vaccines are made - so I felt reassured by that. 

Isabella said taking part in the trial was easy and convenient. She was able to schedule appointments around her work schedule and the research team at Mile End Hospital, where she took part, was friendly and answered all her questions.

“I enjoy going to visit,” she said. “It’s just been a really nice experience. And I feel like I’m doing something useful and giving back.”

To find out more about participating in this study, please visit the trial website. To receive information about other studies you can take part in, sign up to Be Part of Research

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