The UK is set to start the first global trial of healthy volunteers intentionally infected with coronavirus, after the study received ethical approval.
The so-called human challenge study will begin within a month, the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a statement on Wednesday, with up to 90 people exposed to a very small amount of coronavirus in a safe and controlled environment. These types of trials are controversial as they expose healthy volunteers to diseases that can be fatal.
The next stage of the study, which has not yet been approved, will consist of administering a coronavirus vaccine to different volunteers and then exposing them to the coronavirus. Only vaccines that “have been shown to be safe in clinical trials” will be used. However, researchers are still “a long way off” from this stage of the study, according to Terence Stephenson, president of the Health Research Authority, which gave ethical approval.
Advocates say these studies provide the fastest way to evaluate new vaccines, especially when the world emerges from an active pandemic, said Robert Read, director of clinical and experimental sciences within medicine at the University of Southampton, who belongs to this camp and is part of the team involved in the study.
This initial part of the study will help doctors understand how the immune system reacts to the virus and identify what affects transmission. The drug Remdesivir will be used as soon as the volunteers begin to develop symptoms.
The volunteers, who are encouraged to come forward for the study, will be between the ages of 18 and 30 and will be exposed to the variant circulating in the UK from March 2020.
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