In a bid to speed up the development of an efficacious Covid-19 vaccine, the UK government has signed a contract for the first human challenge studies.
Healthy volunteers will be deliberately infected with the coronavirus under the challenge trial in a controlled setting. A number of concerns have been raised over the risk of exposing healthy participants to the virus. Some have argued that the young do not fully represent the wider population.
Alok Sharma, the UK’s Business Secretary said: “We are doing everything we can to fight coronavirus, including backing our best and brightest scientists and researchers in their hunt for a safe and effective vaccine.
“The funding announced today for these ground-breaking but carefully controlled studies marks an important next step in building on our understanding of the virus and accelerating the development of our most promising vaccines which will ultimately help in beginning our return to normal life.”
The first step of the human challenge trial will be conducted at the beginning of next year by hVIVO, a subsidiary of the Irish company, Open Orphan.
“We want to find out right from the word go how the human body reacts to a dose of the virus,” Dr Martin Johnson, Senior Medical Director at hVIVO, told CNN.
The trials will be conducted at the Royal Free Hospital in London and up to 19 volunteers at a time will participate in the tests. Researchers say only a few volunteers are required for the challenge trials and it delivers scientific data more quickly than other clinical trials.
Dr Johnson said: “We are actually going to take the very smallest dose. What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to get the minimum number of symptoms that are safe.”
Scientists say the small risk can potentially protect millions of people from contracting the virus “without consenting to it”.