British researchers are preparing to screen healthy young people through voluntary coronavirus infection. They were the first to announce plans to use the controversial technique to study the disease. This could potentially speed up the development of a vaccine, which would accordingly help end the pandemic.
What does a voluntary coronavirus infection contribute to??
This type of research, known as the Human Challenge, is rarely used. Indeed, some people consider the risk of doing this type of research in otherwise healthy individuals to be unethical. However, researchers fighting COVID-19 say such a risk is justified. They argue that such studies have the potential to quickly identify the most effective vaccines. It also helps fight a disease that has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide. Intentional and voluntary infection with coronavirus or a known human pathogen is never taken lightly, claims Professor Peter Openshaw, who is involved in the study. So far, human challenge studies have been used to develop vaccines against diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and malaria.
Imperial College London announced Tuesday that the study of volunteers ages 18-30, in partnership with the Government’s Department of Economy, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and hVIVO, a company experienced in the implementation of challenges, should be carried out. The government plans to invest £ 33.6 million in research. Governments around the world are funding efforts to develop a vaccine in hopes of ending the pandemic. The state of emergency has hit the international economy hard, leaving millions of people unemployed. Forty-six potential vaccines are already in human testing. Eleven of them are in the late stage, with some studies expected to provide results later this year or early 2021.
The partnership with Imperial College is expected to start work in January. The results are expected to be available in May. Before any research begins, such a study must be approved by ethics committees and regulatory authorities. While one or more vaccines are likely to be approved before that time, the study will nonetheless be relevant. The world’s population may need multiple vaccines to adequately protect different groups. Treatments are thus available for those who continue to get sick. This is shared by Dr. Michael Jacobs, who is an infectious disease advisor with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and who will participate in the research. Tens of thousands of volunteers around the world have already signed up to take part in more traditional studies with COVID-19 vaccines. However, critics of challenge studies question the need to expose healthy people to the virus. They argue that the disease remains widespread and vaccine development is advancing rapidly.
In the first phase of the UK study, researchers will expose 90 paid volunteers to the virus with nasal drops to determine the lowest level of exposure required to cause COVID-19 to develop. Ultimately, the same model will be used to test the effectiveness of potential vaccines. It does this by voluntarily contracting coronavirus infection after participants receive one of the candidate vaccines. The research is being carried out at the Royal Free Hospital in London. This hospital has an area specially designed for the containment of the disease. Volunteers are monitored for at least a year to make sure they have no long-term effects.