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Volunteers ‘to be deliberately infected with Covid-19 in human challenge trials’

Covid-19 human challenge trials in which healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with coronavirus to assess the effectiveness of potential vaccines will reportedly take place in London.

The Financial Times said the UK Government-funded studies are expected to begin in January at a secure quarantine facility in the east of the capital.

The project, which reportedly has Imperial College London as its academic leader and will be run by hvivo, will be announced next week, according to the newspaper.

The FT said volunteers will be inoculated with a vaccine, and a month or so later receive a “challenge” dose of the virus that causes Covid-19 under controlled conditions.

Alastair Fraser-Urquhart is a volunteer organiser at advocacy group 1Day Sooner, which is signing up volunteers for a Covid-19 challenge trial and is reportedly launching a UK campaign this week.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “I think a challenge trial has the potential to save thousands of lives, and really bring the world out of the pandemic sooner.

“And it was just something that made instant sense to me really.”

He said he will be remaining at the clinic where the trial is taking place “for really as long as it takes”.

An isolation period of as long as a month may be required for those taking part in the trial.

Professor Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford and chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said the challenge trial is a good idea.

He told the Today programme there is a “long history” of challenge studies, adding: “It has real potential to advance science and get us to a better understanding of the disease and vaccines faster.”

Prof Horby said it is now known that the risk in a healthy young adult with no underlying conditions is “extremely low”.

He also said there are now some treatments that are shown to have a benefit so that in the unlikely event that a person in the challenge trial becomes unwell, they can be given Remdesivir to help control the disease.

Prof Horby said he did not know which of the potential vaccines would be most likely to be used in the challenge trial.

“There’s a number of scientific benefits, not just a vaccine, but also better understanding immune responses to this virus,” he said.

A Government spokeswoman said: “We are working with partners to understand how we might collaborate on the potential development of a Covid-19 vaccine through human challenge studies.

“These discussions are part of our work to research ways of treating, limiting and hopefully preventing the virus so we can end the pandemic sooner.”

A spokeswoman for Imperial College London said it “continues to engage in a wide range of exploratory discussions relating to Covid-19 research, with a variety of partners”, but said it had nothing further to report at this stage.
(PA)