World’s first human COVID-19 study begins in the UK

World’s first human COVID-19 study begins in the UK
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The first ever COVID-19 study that will infect humans with the virus is to begin in the UK.

The study will involve 90 healthy, adult volunteers, aged 18 – 30, who will be exposed to COVID-19 in a safe and controlled environment to help inform the development of treatments and understanding of how people are affected by the virus.

The study, backed by a £33.6m UK government investment, aims to establish the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.

Identifying effective vaccines

Human challenge studies play an important role in accelerating the development of treatments for diseases such as malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus, and flu and in the past have helped researchers establish which possible vaccine is most likely to succeed against the disease being studied.

This COVID-19 human challenge study will help inform understanding of how the human immune system reacts to the novel coronavirus, as well as help to identify factors that influence how the virus is transmitted – including how a person who is infected with the COVID-19 virus transmits infectious virus particles into the environment.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Researchers and scientists around the world have made incredible progress in understanding COVID-19 and developing critical vaccines to protect people.

“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.”

Once the study has taken place, vaccine candidates which have proven to be safe in clinical trials may be given to small numbers of volunteers, who will  then be exposed to the virus, helping to identify the most effective vaccines and accelerate their development.

Volunteer safety

To ensure safety of the volunteers, the 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, with medics and scientists closely monitoring the effect of the virus on volunteers. The Royal Free Hospital’s specialist and secure clinical research facilities in London where the study will take place are specifically designed to contain the virus.

The researchers are also working very closely with the Royal Free Hospital and the North Central London (NCL) Adult Critical Care Network to ensure the study will not impact on the NHS’s ability to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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