In May 2022, cases of mpox (formerly referred to as monkeypox) were reported concurrently in both non-endemic and endemic regions for the first time . Countries like the United States and the United Kingdom where mpox was considered rare saw widespread outbreaks, resulting in emergency declarations and vaccination campaigns. Today, more than 81,000 cases have been reported in locations that have not historically reported mpox . Although it remains a threat, cases have decreased since the outbreak’s peak in summer 2022, and the Biden administration ended its mpox public health emergency in late January .
While this sudden, global outbreak caused alarm, the world rallied quickly to accurately diagnose and vaccinate against mpox. Did hard learned lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic boost the efficiency of global response? At last year’s Association for Molecular Pathology’s Annual Meeting & Expo (AMP 2022), two experts from Aegis Sciences Corporation made the case that it did. During both the COVID-19 and mpox outbreaks, Aegis sprang into action to support testing and surveillance efforts.
From small lab to leading results provider
When COVID-19 hit, Aegis’ BioPharma Lab was lean, but nimble, in its response. According to Matthew Hardison, PhD, FACMG, TC-NRCC, Senior Vice President, Lab Operations, Aegis took some time to consider next steps before launching and validating its first assay in spring of 2020. Starting from five employees using six instruments, the lab tripled its staff and resources within a few months, expanding significantly to perform over 15,000 tests a day.
At the peak, according to Dr. Hardison, Aegis was able to run 130,000 samples per day. The lab worked closely with partners to not only increase the number of samples it could test but to support national surveillance efforts. “We’ve used the TaqPath COVID-19 Combo Kit almost since the beginning and the free target assay there has allowed us to create an additional, much faster look at where the pandemic is heading [and] what different variants are rising or falling,” said Dr. Hardison.
PCR’s trusted reputation as a diagnostic tool
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the world witnessed the importance of infectious disease testing and the benefits of molecular testing firsthand. “One of the things that the pandemic did which was good is increase the public’s awareness, and not just the lay public but also the clinical and medical public’s awareness and understanding of PCR and molecular-based assays,” said Dr. Hardison. Thanks to PCR’s performance in testing for COVID-19, it is now recognized as a trusted, accurate diagnostic tool.
The good news is that when it comes to defending against future disease outbreaks, existing trust and capacity for PCR testing can be relied on. According to Cyndi Clark, PhD, Manager, BioPharma Laboratory at Aegis, the PCR workflow for COVID-19 can be used for research into other infectious diseases. “We were able to utilize the exact same workflow just by adding in a couple of different collection methods depending on the panel, so we changed our kits – but really, once it gets into the lab, the workflow stays the same,” said Dr. Clark, explaining how her team was able to use its established workflow for research in a range of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases as well as urinary tract infections and sexually transmitted diseases.
New outbreak, same workflow
Like most of the world, Aegis learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. “You don’t know what you don’t know and boy, that was a lot,” said Dr. Hardison. But lessons from COVID-19 are already paying dividends in improving response to other infectious diseases, with mpox as the most recent example.
When mpox became a global threat, leveraging existing relationships built during COVID-19 was essential: “One thing that the CDC, NIH, and other governing bodies did with this monkeypox outbreak is react much more quickly to leverage and engage those public-private partnerships to expand our nation’s testing capacity, so we wouldn’t get in a place like we were at the beginning of COVID,” reflected Dr. Hardison.
According to Dr. Clark, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) knew which labs to come to for testing support, improving the speed of early response. Furthermore, despite some updates to collection techniques, Aegis was able to leverage its COVID-19 PCR workflow for mpox. Going forward, Dr. Clark sees the world getting better and better at response times for infectious disease – thanks to key learnings from the last few years.
For more on the molecular testing response to COVID-19 and monkeypox, as well as lessons learned, watch Aegis Sciences Corporation’s presentations from AMP 2022 on-demand.
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