As part of a government study of the “human challenge,” up to 90 young people will be exposed to the coronavirus.
The United Kingdom will become the first country in the world to deliberately expose volunteers to a new coronavirus in a so-called human-potential challenge study that it hoped would eventually help develop vaccines and treatments.
Up to 90 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 will be exposed to the virus in a “safe and controlled environment” during the trial, which will begin within a month, the Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (BEIS) department said Wednesday.
The British Ethical Authority for Clinical Trials has approved a study that will use the minimum amount of virus needed to cause an infection, BEIS said.
Chris Chiu, chief trial investigator at Imperial College London, said the goal of the initial work would be “to understand how the virus infects humans and how it passes so successfully between us.”
Participants will be exposed to the original strain of the first wave that has been circulating in the UK since March 2020. It has been shown to be a low-risk variant in healthy young adults.
Volunteers will be screened for possible health risks before being allowed to participate and quarantined for close monitoring by medical staff for at least 14 days in a specialist unit at London’s Royal Free Hospital.
Participants will receive redemption fees of around £ 88 ($ 122) per day for the duration of the study, which will also include follow-up throughout the year.
Study promises ‘unique insight’
The government has invested £ 33.6 million ($ 46.6 million) in the study, which is run by a government vaccine working group, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and hVIVO, the company that led the viral human challenge models.
“We expect these studies to provide a unique insight into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing infection,” said Clive Dix, interim chair of the Vaccine Working Group.
Similar research in the past has played a crucial role in developing treatments for other diseases, including malaria, cholera and influenza.
John Ashton, the former regional regional public health director for the North West of England, said the trial was a “very important” step towards a better understanding of the “relationship between the virus and the people exposed to it” and expressed confidence in the safety of the research.
“These experiments will be performed in a highly controlled clinical environment, so if any of the volunteers get adverse effects it can be treated very quickly,” Ashton told Al Jazeera.
“And of course, treatment options have now improved significantly since the onset of the pandemic,” he said.
The UK has recorded more than four million cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak. Nearly 120,000 people have died across the country, making it one of the worst casualties in the world.
The concern is heightened by a mutation known as the Kent variant that is sweeping the country, prompting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to implement a third national blockade on January 4th.
But Johnson’s government has won praise for taking a quick step to vaccinate more than 15 million people with at least one dose of the two stings currently in use in the country – produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech – as of Dec. 8.
The British drug regulator has also approved the use of inoculation produced by Moderna, although stocks of the vaccine have not yet been delivered.