The UK is set to begin the first trial of the world’s healthy volunteers intentionally infected with the coronavirus, after the study received ethical approval.
The so-called study of human challenges will begin within a month, according to a statement from the British Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Wednesday, and up to 90 people will be exposed to very little coronavirus in a safe and controlled environment. Such studies are controversial because they expose healthy volunteers to diseases that can be deadly.
The next phase of the study, which has not yet been approved, will involve giving the 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, the researchers are still “far” from this phase of the study, according to Terence Stephenson, president of the Board of Health Research, which approved the ethics.
Supporters say the studies provide the fastest way to evaluate new vaccines, especially when the world emerges from an active pandemic, said Robert Read, head of clinical and experimental medical sciences at the University of Southampton, who belongs to the camp and part of the team involved in the study.
This initial part of the study will help doctors understand how the immune system responds to the virus and identify what affects transmission. Remdesivir will be given as soon as the volunteers start to develop symptoms.
Volunteers, who are encouraged to apply for the study, will be between 18 and 30 years old and will be exposed to a variant circulating in the UK from March 2020.
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