A recent article, in the French publication Usbek & Rica, has asked a number of scientists to explain the importance of using monkeys in research on Covid-19 in France.
The article explains that a recent search for examples of Covid research using monkeys (non-human primates) showed 747 separate studies had been undertaken.
“It is their close genetic proximity to us that makes them so useful," explained immunologist Roger Le Grand, director of IDMIT, a preclinical research centre dedicated to human infectious diseases, and very active in research on Covid.
"All the vaccines against Covid-19 have involved non-human primates for their pre-clinical studies”, said Thierry Decelle, veterinary chief of EARA member Sanofi. “And whatever the technology developed: mRNA, adenovirus, or recombinant protein.”
Sanofi, as part of the development of its recombinant protein vaccine against Covid-19, used primates in eight studies, including studies of immunogenicity (induction of an effector immune response) and then of efficacy ( protection against infection).
The article revealed that a typical vaccine evaluation study requires testing one or two doses of vaccine, on two groups: a vaccinated group and a control group (unvaccinated) using about 18-24 monkeys per study.
Roger Le Grand explained that monkeys were also used to test drugs that may have helped to prevent Covid infection, such as hydroxychloroquine – famously championed by Donald Trump. Institut Pasteur, Inserm and CNRS, tested it in April 2020, and unfortunately it showed no beneficial antiviral effect.
Ivan Balansard, veterinarian at the National Institute of Biological Sciences of the CNRS, told the publication that monkeys were particularly used to study the deadly progress of the virus in the human body. “It is for example thanks to the macaque monkey that we were able to understand the famous cytokine storm, this overreaction of the immune system observed in Covid patients.”