British researchers are reportedly set to run clinical trials in which volunteers are deliberately infected with Covid-19 to test the effectiveness of potential vaccines.
So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, according to the Financial Times, which cited people involved in the project. About 2,000 participants are said to have signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner.
The studies will reportedly be government-funded and led by Imperial College London researchers, although 1Day Sooner said it would also launch an appeal for public funding of a biocontainment facility big enough to quarantine 100 to 200 participants.
The government confirmed it was in talks over potential human challenge trials but did not comment on a specific plan.
“We are working with partners to understand how we might collaborate on the potential development of a Covid-19 vaccine through human challenge studies,” 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.
“Imperial College London did not confirm its involvement.
“Imperial continues to engage in a wide range of exploratory discussions relating to Covid-19 research, with a variety of partners.
We have nothing further to report at this stage,” a spokeswoman said when asked about the possibility of challenge trials.
Any trials conducted in the United Kingdom have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the healthcare regulator which looks into safety and protocol.
The MHRA did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but 1Day Sooner, which lobbies for challenge trials to accelerate vaccine development, welcomed the report.
“1Day Sooner congratulates the British government on their plans to conduct challenge trials to test vaccines,” it said in a statement, confirming it would petition the government to house the trial participants.
There have been industry discussions in recent months about potentially having to inject healthy volunteers with coronavirus if drugmakers struggled to find enough patients for final trials.
The Financial Times report said volunteers would first be inoculated with a vaccine and later receive a challenge dose of the coronavirus. It did not name the vaccines that would be assessed in the project.
British drugmaker AstraZeneca and French firm Sanofi both told Reuters that their vaccine candidates were not involved in the programme.
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