London: In order to gain a better understanding of the coronavirus, a British study will intentionally infect participants with the
pathogen, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced on Wednesday.
The study would be the world’s first “human challenge” study on the novel coronavirus, it said.
Up to 90 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 “will be exposed to Covid-19 in a safe and controlled environment to
increase understanding of how the virus affects people,” it said in a statement.
The participants would not be vaccinated beforehand, a ministry spokesperson said upon request.
“Human challenge” trials, in which healthy people are exposed to a pathogen, have been used in the past, for example, in the
development of flu or malaria vaccines.
The ministry particularly encouraged young and healthy people to sign up for the project, which is set to start in the coming
weeks, after it received approval from Britain’s clinical trials ethics body.
“The safety of volunteers is paramount, which means this virus characterisation study will initially use the version of the virus that
has been circulating in the UK since March 2020 and has been shown to be of low risk in young healthy adults,” the statement
Participants would be monitored by doctors and researchers 24 hours a day and receive a compensation.
The aim of the study is to find out how the immune system responds to the virus and identify factors that influence how an
infected person transmits the virus.
The results will play a key role in the development of vaccines, the statement said, adding that in follow-up studies, participants
could be exposed to the virus after being vaccinated with a new substance.
This approach to testing vaccines has the advantage that efficacy can be tested comparatively efficiently. The usual procedure, on
the other hand, involves vaccinating tens of thousands of people and compare infection rates with an unvaccinated control group.
However, “human challenge” studies are controversial. The German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies
(vfa), for example, had rejected such tests as unethical in the fall.
“Challenge studies may show a distorted picture, since findings obtained only with young, healthy people may not be
transferable to the elderly and chronically ill. But these groups of people are most at risk from Covid-19,” the association said on
Artificially induced infections would not correspond to real infections in everyday life, it said.