An ethics board that oversees clinical trials in the United Kingdom today said a research team there can begin to intentionally infect volunteers with the virus that causes COVID-19, a world-first experiment meant to accelerate research into vaccines against the disease.
Backed by a £33.6 million United Kingdom government investment, the study will be delivered by a partnership between Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the clinical company hVIVO.
Britain became the first country in the world Wednesday to give the go-ahead for human challenge trials in which volunteers will deliberately be exposed to COVID-19 to advance research into the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The initial study will help scientists understand how the immune system reacts to coronavirus (the virus that causes Covid-19), and identify factors that influence how the virus is transmitted - including how a person who is infected "sheds" infectious virus particles into the environment.
As many as 90 volunteers will be part of the trial.
Volunteers will get compensation payments of around £88 ($122) per day for the duration of the study, which will also involve follow-up monitoring for a year, Chiu's team said, and the studies will be conducted in a safe and controlled environment and will minimize any risk.
"We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection", said Clive Dix, the interim chair of the Vaccine Taskforce.
There are certain limitations of HCTs, since they can not be conducted for diseases that have a high case fatality rate or for diseases for which no course of treatment is available.
People aged between 18 and 30 years old, who are at the lowest risk of complications resulting from coronavirus, are being encouraged to volunteer for the study.
World’s first coronavirus human challenge study gets green light in UK
This experiment will be conducted in order to test treatments and vaccines.
The controversial trials, which will allow scientists to monitor the virus' behavior and how it responds to vaccines, were first announced last October.
This will help identify the most effective vaccines and accelerate their development.
"hVIVO has been successfully undertaking challenge studies since 2001 and we have run challenges successfully for a range of infectious diseases and respiratory diseases, that includes Respiratory Syncytial virus, asthma...influenza, COPD, and many others", said Catchpole.
Human challenge studies have been used for decades to accelerate the development of treatments for diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus and flu.
The trials will be conducted in "secure clinical research facilities" that are "specifically created to contain the virus", according to the government, which stressed that the safety of trial participants was paramount.
The Health Research Authority (HRA) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are the UK's regulators responsible for providing ethics and regulatory approval, respectively for all human clinical trials.
The virus researchers will use in the trials was produced at Great Ormond Street Hospital.