Up to 90 volunteers aged 18-30 will be paid £4,500 each as they are exposed to increasing doses of the virus, in a controlled environment, to discover the smallest amount needed to cause infection. The study is backed by £33.6million Government investment and could speed up development of vaccines and care. 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.”
Human challenge studies have been used for decades to accelerate the development of treatments for diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus and flu. They allow researchers to study in detail how the body responds to an infection, while carefully monitoring the safety of volunteers.
The Covid-19 work will use a strain of the virus that has been circulating since March, and has been shown to be of Participants will receive the virus as drops in the nose and have to quarantine for more than two weeks in hospital while they are monitored.
It is not designed to induce symptoms and as soon as volunteers start to “shed virus”, they will be given the antiviral drug remdesivir as a pre-emptive treatment.
The study is due to begin in the next few weeks and will be delivered by experts from the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the company hVIVO, which has pioneered viral human challenge models.
Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial, said: “It’s important to emphasise that the aim of the initial studies are not to produce any great severity of disease.
“Indeed, if we can just demonstrate that the virus grows in the nose, that’s really the endpoint we’re looking for.
“We’re not aiming to make any of the subjects sick and we’re doing that by very slowly escalating the dose.”
Volunteers will receive the payment to participate in the study, which will involve 17 days of quarantine and follow-ups over 12 months.
People can express an interest in taking part at: ukcovidchallenge.com