HEALTHY young Brits will be paid up to £4,500 to be deliberately infected with coronavirus in a new trial.
The groundbreaking human study will then pave the way to test out vaccines and probe the effect of variants on people.
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The first-of-its kind trial investigating how the bug affects humans is set to start next month.
Up to 90 volunteers aged 18 to 30 will be exposed to a small amount of coronavirus in a controlled environment at London’s Royal Free Hospital.
Imperial College London scientists and NHS experts will monitor the volunteers for two-and-a-half weeks, and for a further 12 months to track any long Covid possibilities.
The study will eventually be able to test any new vaccines or boosters that may be needed to fight variants – but this element of the trial has yet to be approved.
Professor Robert Read explained the trial will also allow new treatments to be explored – which won’t be possible once cases have dropped and there aren’t as many people in hospital.
Dr Andrew Catchpole, chief scientific officer at clinical company hVIVO, which has pioneered viral human challenge models, said: “This first trial will also then be a critical platform and critical learnings that we can then translate to any new variant viruses, should we need to put a variant virus into the model.
“It will take us approximately three to four months, probably, to manufacture a new variant of virus, should that be required.
The study – backed by the Government with £33.6 million funding – will use a version of the original virus which has been circulating in the UK since March 2020.
This is because that variant is of very low risk of severe illness in young healthy adults.
Volunteers will be given the drug remdesivir as soon as they show signs of illness in a bid to minimise any potential risks.
The first wave of results are expected in a few months, with the study then able to move onto vaccine testing or introducing variants.
This will help identify the most effective vaccines and accelerate their development, including any tweaks or booster jab development.
The team is still looking for all the volunteers – with people not previously exposed to Covid able to put their hands up to take part online.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “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.
“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.”
In the past, human challenge studies have been vital in accelerating the development of treatments for diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus and flu.
The human challenge study is being delivered by a partnership between the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the industry-leading clinical company hVIVO, which has pioneered viral human challenge models.
The Royal Free Hospital’s specialist and secure clinical research facilities in London are specifically designed to contain the virus.
The Health Research Authority (HRA) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) are the UK’s regulators responsible for providing ethics and regulatory approval, respectively for all human clinical trials.