UK planning "challenge trials" that deliberately expose volunteers to COVID-19
With the world waiting for a coronavirus vaccine with bated breath, the United Kingdom is looking to launch an unusual trial — one wherein volunteers would be intentionally infected with the virus to judge how effective a vaccine is. UK Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) put out a statement on Wednesday indicating that such an experiment is possible. Here's more.
The challenge trials could start in January
As per a report in FT, these studies could start from January, at a quarantine facility in East London. As part of the "challenge trials," the volunteers will be inoculated with a vaccine and nearly a month later, they will be infected with coronavirus. 2,000 volunteers have already registered for the challenge via 1Day Sooner, an advocacy group based in the US.
The aim is to find a vaccine soon
Saying that the government was working with partners, a spokeswoman said, "These discussions are part of our work to research ways of treating, limiting and hopefully preventing the virus so we can end the pandemic sooner."
What are the concerns linked to "challenge trials"?
Now, in traditional vaccine trials, people are administered the vaccine, and are then observed for any side effects. Deliberately infecting volunteers is riskier, and it raises questions about ethics. The World Health Organization (WHO) had in May released guidelines for challenge trials, saying it would be ethically acceptable if rules aren't compromised with. But, it did note that challenge trials would produce faster results.
Candidates will be injected with a purified strain of virus
According to WHO's guidelines, young and healthy adults must be chosen for challenge trials. They must be administered low doses initially, should be given high-quality care, and should be monitored closely. The volunteers will reportedly be infected with a purified strain of the virus, in a controlled atmosphere to not overwhelm the immune system. They will also be given monetary compensation.
1Day Sooner said challenge trials would save time
1Day Sooner's lead organizer Alastair Fraser-Urquhart said challenge trials are the best way to judge numerous vaccines simultaneously. 18-year-old Alastair explained, "By exposing just a few hundred carefully selected young, healthy people to coronavirus — a virus which for this group is far less deadly than routine procedures such as a live kidney donation — we can test a huge range of vaccines quickly."
Reportedly, Imperial College London is the academic leader of project
The experiment will be helmed by Imperial College London, claimed FT, though the institution didn't comment on the veracity of the report. hVIVo, a spin-off of Queen Mary University of London, could run the trials. hVIVO's 24-bed quarantine facility will reportedly be chosen for the trials. The daily said the facility could be split into three areas, having eight beds each.
AstraZeneca's potential vaccine won't be participating in "challenge trials"
Notably, all trials happening in the UK need to get approval from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The body said the safety of participants will always remain its top priority. While more details about the trials are under wraps, British pharma-giant AstraZeneca and France's Sanofi confirmed to Reuters that their potential vaccines won't participate in the program.