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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

The Link Between Coronavirus Retreat and the Falling Prices of Monkeys in China

As the post-COVID-19 pandemic era has led to a slowdown in medical research activities in China, a unique market has been notably affected: the laboratory monkey trade.
With the pharmaceutical sector in the world's second-largest economy facing a decline in investments, the prices for lab monkeys have plummeted.

Back in 2019, the price for a single laboratory monkey, referred to by China as "non-human primates," was at approximately $4,000. This figure escalated to about $26,000 in 2022 before dropping down to $11,000 by the end of 2023. According to the Financial Times, this is indicative of the volume of medical research being conducted on pharmaceuticals.

Shen Xin, a healthcare systems analyst in China, mentioned that the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic witnessed significant upsurges in pharmaceutical sector investments, with investors pumping money into local companies producing vaccines. This resulted in an increased demand for laboratory monkeys, which regulators emphasize as crucial in the early stages of drug testing to ensure safety, due to their physiological and behavioral similarities to humans despite opposition from animal rights activists.

Bruce Liu, a partner at the consulting firm Simon-Kucher, observed that monkey prices have seen sharp fluctuations in recent years as an indicator of biotech clinical trial activities in China. Although decreases in clinical trial costs in China and an aging population have stimulated investments in this sector, the past two years have seen a slump in investment value with reduced demand for COVID vaccines. Investment in China’s healthcare sector toppled from $31 billion in 2021 to a mere $12 billion in 2023, as reported by UBS data. This reflects a downturn in drug discovery investments.

In 2021, China bred around 30,000 monkeys, according to data from the National Institutes of Health, which is approximately 30% below the required amount. Liu added, "Companies that bought monkey breeding farms are now stuck with (monkey investments)."

While laboratory monkey prices have fallen in China, U.S. scientists are urging the government to invest in monkey breeding programs due to a supply crisis that has affected research.

China banned the export of laboratory monkeys in 2020 amidst the spread of the coronavirus. As China was the primary supplier of monkeys to the United States, their prices tripled in America between 2019 and 2022, according to the research and investment organization Evercore ISI.

Following this development, the United States pursued the illegal market for smuggling laboratory monkeys from Cambodia, which attempted to fill the void left by China.
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