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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Clinical Laboratories and Pathology Groups

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Recent Separate Business Transactions by Fujifilm and GE Healthcare Suggest Bullish Outlook for Faster Adoption of Digital Pathology

Fujifilm acquired Inspirata’s Dynamyx digital pathology technology and business while GE Healthcare announced a partnership with Tribun Health in Europe

Clinical pathology laboratories, especially in the US, have been slow to adopt digital imaging systems. But recent industry deals suggest that the market may soon heat up, at least in the eyes of vendors. These collaborators may hope that, by integrating diagnostic data, the accuracy and productivity of anatomic pathologists will improve while also shortening the time to diagnosis.

In a December press release, Tokyo-based Fujifilm announced it acquired the global digital pathology business of Inspirata, including its Dynamyx digital pathology system. Inspirata is a Tampa-based cancer informatics company.

In the press release, Fujifilm stated that 85% of US healthcare organizations use analog systems for pathology. That compares with 86% in Europe and 90% in Asia, the company stated.

“Acquiring Inspirata’s digital pathology business allows Fujifilm to be an even stronger healthcare partner—bridging a technological gap between pathology, radiology, and oncology to facilitate a more collaborative approach to care delivery across the enterprise,” said Fujifilm CEO and president Teiichi Goto in the press release.

The press release cited data from Signify Research, a healthcare technology marketing data firm that is predicting the global market for digital pathology systems would double from $320 million in 2021 to $640 million by 2025.

Fujifilm previously had a deal with Inspirata to sell the Dynamyx system exclusively in the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, an August press release noted.

Henry Izawa

“A $320 million global industry in 2021 projected to reach $640 million by 2025, the rising number of cancer cases and the demonstrated benefits of digital pathology are fueling significant demand and market growth in the hospital and pharmaceutical industries,” said Henry Izawa (above), president and CEO, Fujifilm Healthcare Americas Corporation, in a press release. “These evolving clinical needs fuel Fujifilm’s investment and innovation in the digital revolution, and we look forward to introducing Dynamyx and its host of unique features and benefits to our Synapse customers and prospects as we strive to enable more efficient medical diagnosis and high-quality care.” (Photo copyright: LinkedIn.)

GE Healthcare Partners with Tribun Health

The Fujifilm acquisition followed an October 18 announcement of a collaboration between GE Healthcare and digital pathology company Tribun Health in Europe to provide an interface between the latter’s digital pathology software and GE Healthcare’s Edison Datalogue image-management system.

In announcing their new collaboration, GE Healthcare and Tribun Health said the integration of their systems—Edison Datalogue and the Tribun Health suite—would foster collaboration between pathologists and clinicians by providing a consolidated location for imaging records. This capability is especially important in oncology, they said.

“The oncology care pathway is one of the most complex with multiple steps involving a variety of specialists, complex tools, frequent decisions, and large data sets,” said GE Healthcare CEO of Enterprise Digital Solutions Nalinikanth Gollagunta in a GE press release. “With this digital pathology collaboration, we continue our journey towards simplifying the oncology care pathway with improved data management, the digitization of pathology, and streamlined data access.”

Tribun Health, based in Paris, France, offers a digital pathology platform that incorporates a camera system, artificial intelligence (AI)-based analysis, remote collaboration, and storage management, plus integration with third-party automation apps.

GE Healthcare claims that Edison Datalogue has the largest share of the Vendor Neutral Archive (VNA) market. That term refers to image archiving systems that use standard formats and interfaces instead of proprietary formats. They are an alternative to the more widely used Picture Archiving and Communications Systems (PACS) used in medical imaging.

The collaboration between the companies “is probably a strategic move to position GE as an integrator of imaging data and digital pathology data in oncology,” said Robert Michel Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.

GE’s History with Dynamyx

This is not GE Healthcare’s first foray into digital pathology. In fact, the company had a major hand in launching the very Dynamyx system that Fujifilm recently acquired.

Dynamyx was originally developed by digital pathology technology company Omnyx, LLC, which was a joint venture formed in 2008 between GE Healthcare and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

In “GE Healthcare Sells Omnyx to Inspirata,” The Dark Report interviewed Inspirata CEO Satish Sanan who at that time said the acquisition would allow his company to offer “a fully integrated, end-to-end digital pathology solution” in Canada and Europe. But GE Healthcare chose to end the partnership in 2016, citing regulatory uncertainty and variable global demand. Two years later, GE sold Omnyx to Inspirata.

GE Healthcare’s new collaboration with Tribun Health shows that the company “still recognizes the value of the pathology data in cancer diagnosis and wants to be in a position to manage that digital pathology data,” Michel said.

Fujifilm’s Plans

Fujifilm said it will incorporate Dynamyx into its Synapse Enterprise Imaging suite, which includes VNA, Radiology PACS, and Cardiology PACS. “Future releases of Dynamyx will also create opportunities for Fujifilm to support pharmaceutical and contract research organizations with toxicity testing data management for drug development,” the company stated in the press release.

US-based subsidiary Fujifilm Healthcare Americas Corporation will handle future development of the Dynamyx system. In the US, the system is currently cleared for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use with Leica’s Aperio AT2 DX scanner and Philips’ Ultra Fast Scanner.

With its recent moves into digital pathology, Fujifilm will be taking on major competitors including Philips, Danaher, and Roche, MedTech Dive reported.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Fujifilm Announces Asset Purchase Agreement with Inspirata, Inc. to Acquire the Company’s Digital Pathology Business

Fujifilm Agrees to Buy Inspirata’s Dynamyx in Challenge to Philips for Digital Pathology Market

GE Healthcare Announces Collaboration to Advance Digital Transformation of Pathology

Leica, Philips Come Out on Top in Digital Pathology Systems Market, KLAS Finds

GE Healthcare Sells Omnyx to Inspirata

Interest in Purchasing/Performing At-home Medical Tests Grows Among Older Adults, according to University of Michigan Poll

As clinical laboratory self-testing expands, sharing of test results with healthcare providers becomes even more essential to optimize health outcomes

Survey data collected by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) indicates that consumer interest in direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical self-testing is growing. In fact, DTC testing appears to be more popular ever, even among older adults who were asked how they feel about performing clinical laboratory self-testing and specimen collecting for certain illnesses.

With support from AARP and the Michigan Medicine Department of Communications, more than 2,000 older adults between the ages of 50 and 80 responded to the IHPI’s National Poll on Healthy Aging (NPHA) either online or by telephone.

According Michigan Medicine’s MHealth Lab, “82% of older adults say that in the future, they would be somewhat or very interested in taking a medical test at home.”

Dark Daily has written regularly about this trend and how leaders need a strategy to serve this class of consumer. That strategy could include collecting the self-test results from consumers and keeping a complete record of consumers’ clinical laboratory test results from inpatient, outpatient, and self-test settings.

Jeffrey Kullgren, MD

“As more companies bring these direct-to-consumer [medical] tests to market and buy ads promoting them, it’s important for healthcare providers and policymakers to understand what patients might be purchasing, what they’re doing with the results, and how that fits into the broader clinical and regulatory picture,” said research scientist Jeffrey Kullgren, MD (above), Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan in a press release. Clinical laboratories may find opportunities to support patients’ self-testing in tandem with the physicians who treat them. (Photo copyright: University of Michigan.)

Importance of Sharing Clinical Laboratory Self-Test Results

Individuals responding to the poll were asked only about medical laboratory self-tests they had purchased themselves either online or at a retail store. Tests provided to respondents by a healthcare provider or given to them for free were not part of the survey.

The researchers discovered that 48% of respondents had purchased at least one variety of at-home health tests in the past. The types of tests bought included:

  • COVID-19 (32%),
  • DNA/genetic kits (17%),
  • Cancer tests, such as colon or prostate (6%),
  • Tests for infections other than COVID-19, such as urinary tract infections or HIV (4%), and
  • Other types of at-home tests, including those for allergies and food sensitivities (10%).

Approximately 82% of the respondents said they would be somewhat or very interested in taking at-home medical tests and nine out of 10 believed the test results should be shared with their doctors. But only 55% of respondents who had taken an at-home medical test and received positive results for infection other than COVID-19 had shared those results with their primary care physician.

However, 90% of respondents who had purchased a self-test for cancer screening did provide their doctors with the results.

“As we have seen in COVID-19, it’s important to share results from a home test with a provider so that it can be used to guide your care and be counted in official statistics,” said Jeffrey Kullgren, MD, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan in an IHPI press release. Kullgren, a primary care physician and healthcare researcher at Michigan Medicine and the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, directed the IHPI poll.

Not All Medical Self-Tests Are Regulated by the FDA

The most prominent reason for wanting to use at-home tests was convenience and 59% of those surveyed felt that the results could be trusted. 

The poll also found that 53% of older adults believe at-home medical tests are regulated by the federal government, which isn’t always the case. Many at-home medical tests are reviewed by the federal US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but not all such tests receive full FDA review.

The FDA, however, offers an online, searchable database consumers can use to determine if a certain over-the-counter test is regulated by the FDA.  

“Home tests can be a convenient way for older adults to check if they have an illness, such as COVID-19” stated Indira Venkat, Senior Vice President, AARP Research in the press release. “But consumers should make sure they know whether the test they are taking is FDA-approved, and how their health or genetic information might be shared.”

Other interesting outcomes of the research include:

  • The purchasing of at-home COVID-19 tests was highest among those between the ages of 50 and 64 when compared to the 65 to 80 age group, but there were no age differences for other types of at-home tests.
  • Respondents who are married or have who more education and/or higher household incomes were more likely to have purchased at-home tests.
  • Blacks were less likely to buy at-home medical tests than Whites or Hispanics.
  • Interest for at-home tests was higher among women than men.
  • Advertising swayed 44% of purchasing respondents to buy a DNA test and 11% to buy a cancer screening test.

Are DTC Home Tests as Accurate as Clinical Laboratory Testing?

At-home medical self-testing and sample collection is becoming accepted and established with consumers and the medical community, which is drawing attention to the accuracy of these tests and how clinical laboratories are being affected by the trend.

In “Patient Safety Organization Releases Report Rating COVID-19 Home Tests for Ease of Use,” we covered the Emergency Care Research Institute’s investigation into certain COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to find out how easy—or not—they are to use and what that means for the accuracy of the tests’ results.

And in “‘Femtech’ Diagnostic Start-up Firms Want to Provide Women with At-Home Tests for Health Conditions That Currently Require Tests Done by Clinical Laboratories,” we reported how growth in this segment could lead to new diagnostic tests that could boost a medical laboratory’s bottom line or, conversely, reduce its revenue as patients self-diagnose urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, and other conditions through at-home DTC testing.

The findings of this recent survey of older consumers is just the latest evidence that at-home self-testing for everything from COVID to cancer is here to stay. Clinical laboratories should be looking for ways to serve this patient population and the physicians who treat them.

JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Medical Tests at Home: Poll Shows High Interest, Uneven Use

The National Poll on Healthy Aging at Five Years

Medical Tests in the Comfort of Your Own Home: Poll Shows High Interest, Uneven Use by Older Adults

At-Home Medical Tests

Self-Testing at Home or Anywhere: For Doing Rapid COVID-19 Tests Anywhere

Patient Safety Organization Releases Report Rating COVID-19 Home Tests for Ease of Use

‘Femtech’ Diagnostic Start-up Firms Want to Provide Women with At-Home Tests for Health Conditions That Currently Require Tests Done by Clinical Laboratories

Looming Government Shutdown Opens Door for Congress to Possibly Pass Clinical Laboratory Bills

Two former FDA commissioners who support changing oversight of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) say FDA’s regulatory playbook is ‘outdated’

Congress’ attempts to avoid a government shutdown due to a lack of funding presents a final chance this year for two different clinical laboratory bills to be pushed through.

The Verifying Accurate Leading-edge IVCT Development (VALID) Act and Saving Access to Laboratory Services Act (SALSA) could be added to a year-end spending package that will fund government operations. Without the spending bill, the government will shut down on Dec. 16 and not re-open until funding is appropriated.

The VALID Act proposes to move oversight of laboratory-developed tests (LDTs) to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). SALSA seeks to reduce lab test reimbursement cuts scheduled for Jan. 1 under the Protecting Access to Medicare Act (PAMA).

As Dark Daily’s sister publication The Dark Report, noted in “VALID and SALSA Acts Still Pending in Congress,” a standalone vote on either bill is unlikely this year. Instead, they would need to be attached to the larger spending bill. (If you’re not a subscriber to The Dark Report, check out our free trial.)

Scott Gottlieb, MD and Mark McClellan, MD

In an article for STAT, former FDA Commissioners Scott Gottlieb, MD (left), and Mark McClellan, MD, PhD (right), wrote, “The FDA is currently working from an outdated regulatory playbook that has left gaps in its oversight of safety and effectiveness and makes it more difficult to introduce new innovations. The [VALID Act] would strengthen protections for consumers and patients for both diagnostic tests and cosmetics and make it easier for manufacturers to introduce better products.” (Photo copyrights: FDA/American Well.)

Political Parties Negotiating

At press time, a draft spending bill had not yet been introduced to Congress as lawmakers from both political parties negotiate funding levels.

A source told The Dark Report that until legislators hammer out those details, add-ons such as the VALID Act or SALSA are stalled. There is no guarantee either lab measure will be added to the spending bill.

“We don’t have agreements to do virtually anything,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reporters on Dec. 6, according to Reuters. “We don’t even have an overall agreement on how much we want to spend,” he added. Reuters reported that Democrats and Republicans in the Senate were $25 billion apart in their proposals.

Congress could also pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open for a short time, which would allow lawmakers more opportunity to negotiate.

Former FDA Chiefs Weigh In

Meanwhile, proponents of the VALID Act have publicly turned the heat up for the bill. For example, STAT recently ran two commentaries—including a joint piece from a pair of former FDA commissioners—in support of the VALID Act.

Currently, LDTs are regulated through the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA). However, supporters of the VALID Act argue that the complexity of modern LDTs deserves more scrutiny.

“The VALID Act would create a consistent standard for all tests, regardless of the kind of facility they were developed in or made in, as well as a modern regulatory framework that’s uniquely designed for the recent and emerging technologies being used to develop tests,” wrote Scott Gottlieb, MD, and Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, in STAT on Dec. 5.

Gottlieb and McClellan served as FDA commissioners from 2017-2019 and 2002-2004 respectively. They both currently serve on various boards for biotech and healthcare companies.

Pathologists, Clinical Lab Directors Express Concerns about VALID Act

Opponents of the VALID Act contend that LDT innovation will be stifled if clinical laboratories, particularly those at academic medical centers, need to spend the time and money to go through formal FDA approval. There is evidence that working pathologists in academic settings have legitimate concerns about the negative consequences that might result if the VALID Act was passed as currently written.

In “Might Valid Act Support Be Waning in Congress?The Dark Report covered how on June 1 more than 290 pathologists and clinical laboratory directors sent a grassroots letter to a Senate committee asking for a series of concessions to be made for academic medical center labs under the VALID Act.

It is reasonable to assert that the majority of clinical laboratory professionals and pathologists are supportive of the SALSA bill, which would stop the next round of scheduled price cuts—as much as a 15% price reduction to many tests—to the Medicare Part B Clinical Laboratory Fee Schedule (CLFS). That is not true of support for the VALID Act, as currently written. Sizeable segments of the diagnostics industry have taken opposing positions regarding passage of that legislation.

For these reasons, both bills will be closely watched in coming weeks as Congress works to fund the federal government while, at the same time, incorporating a variety of other bills under the omnibus bill, which is a considered a “must pass” by many senators and representatives.

Scott Wallask

Related Information:

H.R.4128 – VALID Act of 2021

S.4449 – Saving Access to Laboratory Services Act

Congress Needs to Update FDA’s Ability to Regulate Diagnostic Tests, Cosmetics

US Congress Could Punt Funding Bill into 2023, McConnell Says

VALID and SALSA Acts Still Pending in Congress

Might Valid Act Support Be Waning in Congress?

New Research Challenges Long-Held Theory about Causes of Alzheimer’s Disease, Creating the Possibility of Useful New Biomarkers for Clinical Laboratory Tests

University of Cincinnati researchers hypothesize that low levels of amyloid-beta protein, not amyloid plaques, are to blame

New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Karolinska Institute in Sweden challenges the prevailing theory about the causes of Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting the possibility of new avenues for the development of effective clinical laboratory assays, as well as effective therapies for treating patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

Scientists have long theorized that the disease is caused by a buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain. These plaques are hardened forms of the amyloid-beta protein, according to a UC news story.

However, in their findings published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, titled “High Soluble Amyloid-β42 Predicts Normal Cognition in Amyloid-Positive Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease-Causing Mutations,” the researchers advanced an alternative hypothesis—that Alzheimer’s is instead caused by “depletion” of a soluble form of that same amyloid-beta protein.

“The paradox is that so many of us accrue plaques in our brains as we age, and yet so few of us with plaques go on to develop dementia,” said Alberto Espay, MD, one of the lead researchers of the study, in another UC news story. Espay is Professor of Neurology at the UC College of Medicine and Director and Endowed Chair of the Gardner Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders.

“Yet the plaques remain the center of our attention as it relates to biomarker development and therapeutic strategies,” he added.

Alberto Espay, MD

“It’s only too logical, if you are detached from the biases that we’ve created for too long, that a neurodegenerative process is caused by something we lose, amyloid-beta, rather than something we gain, amyloid plaques,” said Alberto Espay, MD (above), in a University of Cincinnati news story. “Degeneration is a process of loss, and what we lose turns out to be much more important.” The UC study could lead to new clinical laboratory diagnostics, as well as treatments for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. (Photo copyright: University of Cincinnati.)

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High Levels of Aβ42 Associated with Lower Dementia Risk

In their retrospective longitudinal study, the UC researchers looked at clinical assessments of individuals participating in the Dominantly Inherited Alzheimer Network (DIAN) cohort study. DIAN is an ongoing effort, sponsored by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, to identify biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s among people who carry Alzheimer’s mutations.

The researchers found that study participants with high levels of a soluble amyloid-beta protein, Aβ42, were less likely to develop dementia than those with lower levels of the protein, regardless of the levels of amyloid plaques in their brains or the amount of tau protein—either as phosphorylated tau (p-tau) or total tau (t-tau)—in their cerebral spinal fluid. P-tau and t-tau are proteins that form “tau tangles” in the brain that are also associated with Alzheimer’s.

One limitation of the study was that the researchers were unable to include Aβ40, another amyloid-beta protein, in their analysis. But they noted that this “did not limit the testing of our hypothesis since Aβ40 exhibits lower fibrillogenicity and lesser depletion than Aβ42, and is therefore less relevant to the process of protein aggregation than Aβ42.” Fibrillogenicity, in this context, refers to the process by which the amyloid-beta protein hardens into plaque.

While the presence of plaques may be correlated with Alzheimer’s, “Espay and his colleagues hypothesized that plaques are simply a consequence of the levels of soluble amyloid-beta in the brain decreasing,” UC news stated. “These levels decrease because the normal protein, under situations of biological, metabolic, or infectious stress, transform into the abnormal amyloid plaques.”

The UC News story also noted that many attempts to develop therapeutics for Alzheimer’s have focused on reducing amyloid plaques, but “in some clinical trials that reduced the levels of soluble amyloid-beta, patients showed worsening in clinical outcomes.”

New Therapeutics for Multiple Neurodegenerative Diseases

Eisai, a Japanese pharmaceutical company, recently announced phase three clinical trial results of lecanemab, an experimental drug jointly developed by Eisai and Biogen, claiming that the experimental Alzheimer’s drug modestly reduced cognitive decline in early-stage patients, according to NBC News.

Espay noted that lecanemab “does something that most other anti-amyloid treatments don’t do in addition to reducing amyloid: it increases the levels of the soluble amyloid-beta.” That may slow the process of soluble proteins hardening into plaques.

Beyond their findings about Alzheimer’s, the researchers believe similar mechanisms could be at work in other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, where the soluble alpha-synuclein protein also hardens into deposits.

“We’re advocating that what may be more meaningful across all degenerative diseases is the loss of normal proteins rather than the measurable fraction of abnormal proteins,” Espay said. “The net effect is a loss not a gain of proteins as the brain continues to shrink as these diseases progress.”

Espay foresees two approaches to treating these diseases: Rescue medicine, perhaps based on increasing levels of important proteins, and precision medicine, which “entails going deeper to understand what is causing levels of soluble amyloid-beta to decrease in the first place, whether it is a virus, a toxin, a nanoparticle, or a biological or genetic process,” according to UC News. “If the root cause is addressed, the levels of the protein wouldn’t need to be boosted because there would be no transformation from soluble, normal proteins to amyloid plaques.”

Clinical Laboratory Impact

What does this mean for clinical laboratories engaged in treatment of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients? A new understanding of the disease would create “the opportunity to identify new biomarkers and create new clinical laboratory tests that may help diagnose Alzheimer’s earlier in the disease progression, along with tests that help with the patient’s prognosis and monitoring his or her progression,” said Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report.

Given the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the population, any clinical laboratory test cleared by the FDA would be a frequently-ordered assay, Michel noted. It also would create the opportunity for pathologists and clinical laboratories to provide valuable interpretation about the test results to the ordering physicians.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

High Soluble Amyloid-β42 Predicts Normal Cognition in Amyloid-Positive Individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease-Causing Mutations

UC Study: Decreased Proteins, Not Amyloid Plaques, Tied to Alzheimer’s Disease

US News: Scientists Propose New Mechanism Driving Alzheimer’s

Scientists Propose New Mechanism Driving Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s: Lack of Beta-Amyloid, Not Plaque Buildup, May Be the Culprit

Better Cognitive Predictor in People at High Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

UC Study: Researchers Question Prevailing Alzheimer’s Theory with New Discovery

ABPP Amyloid Plaques’ Role in Onset of Alzheimer’s Questioned by Cincinnati University: GlobalData Reveals That ABPP Targeted by a Tenth of All Alzheimer’s Drugs

Blots on a Field? A Neuroscience Image Sleuth Finds Signs of Fabrication in Scores of Alzheimer’s Articles, Threatening a Reigning Theory of the Disease

WVXU: Does a Key Alzheimer’s Study Contain Fabricated Images?

Monkeypox Outbreak Subsides in US, Europe, But Public Health Concerns Remain

Experts cite high vaccination rates and behavioral changes among at-risk groups, but warn about complacency; clinical laboratories should remain vigilant

In July, Scott Gottlieb, MD, Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from May 2017 to April 2019, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “Monkeypox Is About to Become the Next Public Health Failure.” In it, he wrote, “Our country’s response to monkeypox has been plagued by the same shortcomings we had with COVID-19.” But has it improved? Clinical laboratory leaders and pathology group managers will find it informative to find out what has taken place since Gottlieb made his stark prediction.

The global monkeypox outbreak that emerged last spring appears to have subsided in the US and Europe, though it remains to be seen if the disease can be completely eradicated, according to multiple media reports. As of Oct. 26, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 7-day rolling average of 30 cases per day in the US, down from a peak of nearly 440/day in early August.

Cases are also down in cities that earlier reported heavy outbreaks. For example, the New York City Health Department reported a 7-day average of just two cases per day on Oct. 25, compared with 73/day on July 30.

And the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced on Oct. 20 that it would end the city’s public health emergency on monkeypox (MPX) effective on Oct. 31. “MPX cases have slowed to less than one case per day and more than 27,000 San Franciscans are now vaccinated against the virus,” the agency stated in a press release.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD

“Once again, we caution that a declining outbreak can be the most dangerous outbreak, because it can tempt us to think that the crisis is over and to let down our guard,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, in an Oct. 12 global press briefing. “That’s not what WHO is doing. We are continuing to work with countries around the world to increase their testing capacity, and to monitor trends in the outbreak.” Clinical laboratories should not assume the outbreak has passed but continue to be vigilant and prepared for increased demand in monkeypox testing. (Photo copyright: ITU Pictures.)

Changing Behavior Lowers Infection Rates

In addition to high vaccination rates, public health experts have attributed the decline to behavioral changes among at-risk groups. “There were really substantial changes among men who have sex [with] men,” infectious disease physician Shira Doron, MD, of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News.

On September 2, the CDC published the results of a survey indicating that about half of men who have sex with men “reported reducing their number of sex partners, one-time sexual encounters, and use of dating apps because of the monkeypox outbreak.”

Another likely factor is the disease’s limited transmissibility. “Initially, there was a lot of concern that monkeypox could spread widely at daycares or in schools, but, overall, there has been very little spread among children,” NPR reported.  

But citing multiple studies, the NPR story noted “that often there isn’t very much virus in the upper respiratory tract,” where it might spread through talking or coughing. “Instead, the highest levels of virus occur on sores found on the skin and inside the anus.”

These studies, along with earlier research, “explain why monkeypox is spreading almost exclusively through contact during sex, especially anal and oral sex, during the current outbreak,” NPR reported.

Monkeypox Could Mutate, experts say

Despite the promising numbers, public health experts are warning that monkeypox could remain as a long-term threat to public health. According to an article in Nature, “At best, the outbreak might fizzle out over the next few months or years. At worst, the virus could become endemic outside Africa by reaching new animal reservoirs, making it nearly impossible to eradicate.”

In addition to the limited transmissibility of the virus, Nature noted that the outbreak stems from a relatively mild form of the pathogen and is rarely fatal. As of Oct. 28, the CDC reported a total of just six confirmed deaths in the US out of a total of 28,302 confirmed cases since the first infections were reported in May.

It is possible that the virus could mutate into a more contagious form, but Nature noted that monkeypox is a DNA virus, and that they tend to mutate more slowly than RNA viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and HIV. Nevertheless, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine bioinformatician Elliot Lefkowitz, PhD, warned that a “worrisome mutation” could arise if the outbreak continues for much longer.

Another expert, Jessica Justman, MD, infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, and associate professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, cautioned that declining case numbers might not reflect the true prevalence of the disease.

“I have no confidence that all the people who need to be tested are being tested,” she told Nature. She expressed concerns that people could resume risky behavior if they think the danger has passed.

Another question is whether currently available vaccines offer long-lasting protection. And though reported case numbers are down in the US and Europe, they are rising in parts of Africa and South America, Nature noted.

Gottlieb’s Dire Prediction

The decline in new infections followed dire warnings last summer about the possible consequences of the outbreak. In his New York Times op-ed, former Gottlieb criticized the CDC for being slow to test for the virus. He wrote, “[I]f monkeypox gains a permanent foothold in the United States and becomes an endemic virus that joins our circulating repertoire of pathogens, it will be one of the worst public health failures in modern times not only because of the pain and peril of the disease but also because it was so avoidable.”

At the time of his writing, Gottlieb was right to be concerned. On July 29, the CDC reported a seven-day moving average of 390 reported cases per day. According to the federal agency, a reported case “Includes either the positive laboratory test report date, CDC call center reporting date, or case data entry date into CDC’s emergency response common operating platform, DCIPHER.”

Quashing the outbreak, Gottlieb estimated, would have required about 15,000 tests per week among people presenting symptoms resembling monkeypox. But between mid-May and the end of June, he noted, the CDC had tested only about 2,000 samples, according to the federal agency’s July 15 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

As a remedy, Gottlieb called on the Biden administration to re-focus the CDC’s efforts more on disease control “by transferring some of its disease prevention work to other agencies,” including the FDA.

Perhaps his suggestions helped. Confirmed monkeypox case are way down. Nevertheless, clinical laboratory leaders should continue to be vigilant. Growing demand for monkeypox testing could indicate an increase in reported cases as we enter the 2022 influenza season, which is predicted to be worse than previous years. Dark Daily covered this impending threat in “Australia’s Severe Flu Season Could be a Harbinger of Increased Influenza Cases in US and Canada Straining Already Burdened Clinical Laboratories.”

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Monkeypox Cases in the US Are Way Down—Can the Virus Be Eliminated?

What Does the Future Look Like for Monkeypox?

NYC Has Almost Eliminated Monkeypox. An NYU Biology Prof on What the City Needs to Reach Zero

New York and Nevada Announce First Monkeypox Deaths as Official CDC Tally Rises to Four

Monkeypox Update: FDA Takes Significant Action to Help Expand Access to Testing

Gottlieb Predicts Monkeypox Will Become Public Health Failure

Monkeypox Is About to Become the Next Public Health Failure

Australia’s Severe Flu Season Could be a Harbinger of Increased Influenza Cases in US and Canada Straining Already Burdened Clinical Laboratories

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