UK to infect volunteers with coronavirus in world’s first human challenge trial

The world’s first COVID-19 “human challenge trial” will begin in the United Kingdom in a few weeks, following approval from the country’s clinical trials ethics body on Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The trial will involve up to 90 healthy adults aged 18–30 years who will be exposed to the original strain of the coronavirus in a safe, controlled environment to understand how the virus grows, as well as the early stages of infection before symptoms appear.

The challenge trial involves a consortium that includes researchers from Imperial College London, Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, the government’s vaccines taskforce and the clinical company hVIVO.

Volunteers will be required to undergo extensive screening, which will include blood tests, imaging tests, heart scans and other physical examinations, to ensure they are not vulnerable to COVID-19. Volunteers will only be accepted if they have no history of COVID-19, no underlying health issues and no risk factors like smoking.

The U.K. government has put £33.6 million towards the trial. Each volunteer will receive £4,500 over the year for their involvement. They will be quarantined at the Royal Free Hospital in London for at least 14 days. They will then be exposed to the coronavirus via drops in the nose two days after checking in.

Doctors will take nasal swabs and blood samples from them each day to monitor changes in the amount of the virus in their system, as well as to monitor their immune reactions. They can go home after two weeks but will be asked to return for follow-ups every few weeks for a year.

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