Home FEATURED UK researchers to deliberately infect participants with COVID-19 for vaccine trial

UK researchers to deliberately infect participants with COVID-19 for vaccine trial

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By Alexi Cohan
Boston Herald

Oct. 21–Researchers in the United Kingdom will deliberately infect 90 healthy volunteers with COVID-19 to study the virus and potentially speed up development of a vaccine, a type of trial that Harvard investigators have said could ease the global death burden.

Imperial College London and a group of researchers said Tuesday that they are preparing a human challenge study, a type of research used infrequently because some question the ethics of infecting otherwise healthy individuals.

“Controlled human challenge trials of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates could accelerate the testing and potential rollout of efficacious vaccines,” wrote Dr. Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in a June article published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The British researchers say that risk of the challenge trial is warranted because such studies have the potential to quickly identify the most effective vaccines and help control a disease that has killed more than 1.1 million people worldwide.

Lipsitch wrote, “Such studies, by accelerating vaccine evaluation, could reduce the global burden of coronavirus-related mortality and morbidity.”

Imperial College said the study, involving volunteers aged 18 to 30, would be conducted in partnership with various government agencies and hVIVO, a company that has experience conducting challenge studies. The government plans to invest $43.4 million in the research.

Human challenge studies have been used to develop vaccines for diseases including typhoid, cholera and malaria.

The Imperial College partnership plans to begin work in January, with results expected by May. Before any research begins, the study must be approved by ethics committees and regulators.

In the first phase of the study, researchers will expose paid volunteers to the virus using nasal drops in an effort to determine the smallest level of exposure needed to cause COVID-19.

The studies don’t come without significant ethical considerations, as noted by Lipsitch and his colleagues in their article.

“It may seem impermissible to ask people to take on risk of severe illness or death, even for an important collective gain. But we actually ask people to take such risks for others’ direct gain every time we ask volunteer firefighters to rush into burning buildings, relatives to donate a live organ to loved ones,” Lipsitch said.

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