British study will infect volunteers with COVID-19 to test vaccines, treatments

A "human challenge" study in Britain includes plans to infect volunteers with COVID-19, which researchers say will allow them to learn more about how the disease works, as well as improve treatments and vaccines designed for it. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

Feb. 18 (UPI) — Scientists in Britain plan to infect 90 healthy, young adults with COVID-19 to test the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments for the virus, Imperial College London officials said Wednesday.

The volunteers, adults age 18 to 30, are to be exposed to the virus in a safe, controlled environment while doctors and nurses monitor their health, according to the officials.

The trial is intended to help researchers learn how the coronavirus infects humans and how the immune system responds.

“We are asking for volunteers … to join this research endeavor and help us to understand how the virus infects people and how it passes so successfully between us,” chief investigator Dr. Chris Chiu said in a press release.

“Our eventual aim is to quickly test which vaccines and treatments work best in beating this disease,” said Chiu, an infectious disease specialist at Imperial College London.

The trial, which will begin once all 90 participants are enrolled, will be the world’s first COVID-19 “human challenge” study, officials said.

Historically, human challenge studies have led to the development of treatments for a number of diseases, including typhoid, cholera and the flu.

Study participants will be screened to ensure they are healthy and were not infected by COVID-19 previously.

They will then spend 14 days quarantined in the hospital after having the virus squirted up their nose, using technology from the company hVIVO of London, which specializes in human challenge research.

Researchers hope to learn how the coronavirus grows in the nose during the very early stages of infection, before people develop symptoms.

Participants will receive about $6,200 over the course of the year-long study, which will include follow-up tests.

At least initially, participants will be infected with the virus strain that has been circulating in Britain since the pandemic began in March, which is of low risk to healthy adults, the researchers said.

Over the course of the study, some volunteers may receive an approved vaccine and then exposed to new variants.

“We will start to see useful results very quickly after the commencement of the study,” hVIVO chief scientific officer Dr. Andrew Catchpole said in a statement.

“From the moment we inoculate someone with this virus, we will learn important information about disease progression and treatment,” he said.


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