The world’s first coronavirus human challenge study will begin in the UK within a month, following approval from the UK’s clinical trials ethics body, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Beis) has announced.
It will involve up to 90 carefully selected, healthy adult volunteers aged between 18 and 30 being exposed to Covid-19 in a safe and controlled environment.
The initial trial aims to establish the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection, probe the body’s immune response, and explore how the virus is passed on from person to person.
Participants will be closely monitored by medics and scientists 24 hours a day following their exposure to the virus. The team add that the virus used will be the variant that was circulating in the UK last year rather than those that have recently emerged.
It is hoped the trial will give doctors greater understanding of Covid-19, such as the immune response required to offer protection against the disease, and help support the pandemic response by aiding vaccine and treatment development. Those interested in taking part have been asked to express their interest via the UK Covid Challenge website.
The study has been supported by a £33.6m investment from the UK government, and after the initial trial will move on to expose participants that have received Covid vaccines to the virus.
Challenge trials are not new. The approach has previously played a role in the development of treatments for other diseases from cholera to flu.
The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said the study was an important element in efforts to tackle Covid.
“While there has been very positive progress in vaccine development, we want to find the best and most effective vaccines for use over the longer term,” he said.
“These human challenge studies will take place here in the UK and will help accelerate scientists’ knowledge of how coronavirus affects people and could eventually further the rapid development of vaccines.”
The study’s chief investigator, Dr Chris Chiu from Imperial College London, said: “We are asking for volunteers aged between 18 and 30 to join this research endeavour and help us to understand how the virus infects people and how it passes so successfully between us.
“Our eventual aim is to establish which vaccines and treatments work best in beating this disease, but we need volunteers to support us in this work.”