An ethics board that oversees clinical trials in the United Kingdom today said a research team there can begin to intentionally infect volunteers with the virus that causes COVID-19, a world-first experiment meant to accelerate research into vaccines against the disease.
The study is being conducted through a partnership between Imperial College London, the government's Vaccines Taskforce, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the clinical company hVIVO.
The study will begin in the coming weeks, and will involve 90 carefully selected, healthy adult volunteers who will be deliberately exposed to the virus in a safe and controlled environment.
Amidst fighting the new variant of the COVID-19 virus, United Kingdom is all set to become the first country in the world to conduct the COVID-19 human challenge trials (HCT) within a month from now. Participants in the study will be monitored 24 hours a day.
Third, "very early administration of antivirals will be given at the onset of infection as a pre-emptive intervention therapy as a precautionary measure for the first groups of volunteers" and finally "we will ensure very close medical monitoring throughout the trial and for year-long follow up visits".
A study which will expose volunteers to the coronavirus is to begin in Britain within a month after it gained approval from the country's clinical ethics body, the government said on Wednesday.
The Chair of the Vaccines Taskforce Clive Dix said: "No one vaccine is likely to be suited to everyone so we must continue to develop new vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 coronavirus".
There are certain limitations of HCTs, since they can not be conducted for diseases that have a high case fatality rate or for diseases for which no course of treatment is available.
It will give doctors a greater understanding of Covid-19 and help support the pandemic response by aiding vaccine and treatment development.
The UK's medicines regulator has also approved the use of the inoculation produced by Moderna, although supplies of that vaccine have not yet been delivered.
Andrew Catchpole, chief science officer at hVIVO, an organization that has conducted human challenge studies for over 30 years, suggests this initial virus characterization phase is not just a cursory stage of research.
In the past, human challenge studies have played important roles in accelerating the development of treatments for diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus and flu.
"We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection", he said.
Its secure clinical research facilities are specifically created to contain the virus, the government said.
And if they can identify the immune factors which are responsible for protection, then they can bridge into older people, where if they can induce the same kinds of immune markers, they can be much more confident that vaccines and other treatments are going to also be effective.