Test makers target monkeypox market as cases surge

LONDON (Reuters) – Diagnostic companies are racing to develop tests for monkeypox, hoping to tap into a new market as governments ramp up efforts to trace the world’s first major outbreak of the viral infection outside of Africa.

The scramble started last month, much like early 2020 when companies rushed to make kits to help diagnose COVID-19, creating a multibillion-dollar boon for test makers.

But demand for monkeypox tests will be a fraction of what it was for COVID, given monkeypox is not as transmissible nor as dangerous as COVID – it typically spreads through close contact and can cause flu-like symptoms and pus-filled skin lesions that usually resolve on their own within weeks.

And unlike the sudden emergence of COVID, there are vaccines, treatments and tests that can already help curb the spread of monkeypox.

A niche new market could soften – but won’t make up for – the anticipated slowing of COVID diagnostic sales as the need to test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus ebbs and concern about monkeypox grows, analysts say.

Roche, for instance, made 1.9 billion Swiss francs ($2.0 billion) in COVID test sales in the first quarter, and Barclays analyst Emily Field estimates the tests will generate 3 billion Swiss francs in total for the company in 2022.

“It would be very difficult for monkeypox revenues to offset this in any meaningful way,” she said.

More than 550 confirmed cases of monkeypox have been reported by about 30 countries since early May. The majority were in Europe and not linked to travel to Africa, where the virus is endemic. Public health authorities suspect some degree of community transmission. No deaths have been reported.

Still, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said it expects infections to rise as surveillance expands and its Europe head warned the spread could accelerate as people gather for parties and festivals over the summer.

This outbreak is significant on the monkeypox scale, but there is not yet a need for hundreds of thousands of tests, which was the case when COVID emerged, said Daniel Bausch, senior director, emerging threats and global health security at FIND, the global alliance for diagnostics.