The first human challenge trials for Covid-19 are set to take place in the UK over the coming weeks following approval from the country’s clinical trials ethics body. According to the government’s website, the study is being carried out as a collaboration between the Vaccines Taskforce, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, and the clinical company hVIVO. A human viral challenge study, also known as a controlled human infection trial, will infect healthy, young volunteers with a minimum amount of the virus necessary to cause an infection, with scientists observing them in a controlled, isolated environment.
With the nation’s vaccination programme currently underway, many are confused as to why people are being asked to get infected purposefully. The answer lies in the information scientists and researchers hope to get from being able to monitor the virus’s effects on the immune system, how it works in the body, and thus deciphering what treatments are most effective. Such studies have also provided pertinent information that can be used for the development of future vaccines and understanding their specificity and have been carried out on diseases such as malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus, and flu.
Dr Andrew Catchpole, the Chief Scientific Officer at hVIVO has stated: “data from the study will immediately facilitate the challenge model to be used for vaccine efficacy testing as well as to answer a wide range of fundamental scientific questions that are not feasible with traditional field trials, such as exactly what type of immunological response is required to confer protection from re-infection”.
Currently, those running the trials are recruiting 90 healthy 18-30-year-old volunteers, who are at the lowest risk of developing complications from the virus. Volunteers will be monitored closely with regards to their health by medics and scientists at the Royal Free Hospital’s clinical research facilities, and will be paid a time-compensation fee of £4500.