Comparison of Rhesus and Cynomolgus macaques as an authentic model for COVID-19

A novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has been identified as the causative agent of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Animal models, and in particular non-human primates, are essential to understand the pathogenesis of emerging diseases and to the safety and efficacy of novel vaccines and therapeutics. Here, we show that SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the upper and lower respiratory tract and causes pulmonary lesions in both rhesus and cynomolgus macaques, resembling the mild clinical cases of COVID-19 in humans.

Immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 were also similar in both species and equivalent to those reported in milder infections and convalescent human patients. Importantly, we have devised a new method for lung histopathology scoring that will provide a metric to enable clearer decision making for this key endpoint.

In contrast to prior publications, in which rhesus are accepted to be the optimal study species, we provide convincing evidence that both macaque species authentically represent mild to moderate forms of COVID-19 observed in the majority of the human population and both species should be used to evaluate the safety and efficacy of novel and repurposed interventions against SARS-CoV-2.

Accessing cynomolgus macaques will greatly alleviate the pressures on current rhesus stocks.

Authors: Francisco J. Salguero, Andrew D. White, Gillian S. Slack, Susan A. Fotheringham, Kevin R. Bewley, Karen E. Gooch, Stephanie Longet, Holly E. Humphries, Robert J. Watson, Laura Hunter, Kathryn A. Ryan, Yper Hall, Laura Sibley, Charlotte Sarfas,, Lauren Allen, Marilyn Aram, Emily Brunt, Phillip Brown, Karen R. Buttigieg, Breeze E. Cavell, Rebecca Cobb, Naomi S. Coombes, Owen Daykin-Pont, Michael J. Elmore, Konstantinos Gkolfinos, Kerry J. Godwin, Jade Gouriet,, Rachel Halkerston, Debbie J. Harris, Thomas Hender, Catherine M.K. Ho, Chelsea L. Kennard, Daniel Knott, Stephanie Leung, Vanessa Lucas, Adam Mabbutt, Alexandra L. Morrison, Didier Ngabo, Jemma Paterson, Elizabeth J. Penn, , Steve Pullan, Irene Taylor, Tom Tipton, Stephen Thomas, Julia A. Tree, Carrie Turner, Nadina Wand, Nathan R. Wiblin, Sue Charlton, Bassam Hallis, Geoffrey Pearson, Emma L. Rayner, Andrew G. Nicholson, Simon G. Funnell, Mike J. Dennis, Fergus V. Gleeson, , Sally Sharpe, Miles W. Carroll