UK approves first ever study to purposely expose people to Covid - here’s how it will work

Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 3:30 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th February 2021, 3:30 pm
The world’s first study involving purposely exposing people to Covid has been approved to take place in the UK (Photo: Shutterstock)

The world’s first study involving purposely exposing people to Covid has been approved to take place in the UK.

The new study will deliberately expose healthy volunteers to the virus in a controlled and safe environment, with the aim of giving doctors a greater understanding of Covid-19.

The first phase of the Human Challenge study aims to establish the smallest amount of virus needed to cause infection.

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The trial will begin in the next few weeks and will involve up to 90 carefully selected and healthy adult volunteers, with those aged between 18 and 30 years old encouraged to volunteer as they have the lowest risk of complications from the virus.

The study will use the version of the virus found in the UK in March 2020 to begin with, as this variant has been shown to be of low risk in young healthy adults.

However, in the future, the study could be adapted to use new Covid-19 variants.

How will the study work?

The study is being delivered by a partnership between the Government’s Vaccines Taskforce, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the clinical company hVIVO.

The study - which will involve 17 days of quarantine and follow-ups over 12 months - is not designed to prompt Covid symptoms in volunteers.

They will therefore be given the pre-emptive treatment of remdesivir as soon as they begin to shed the virus from their nose.

Volunteers will be closely monitored 24 hours a day by medical experts and scientists, and will receive around £4,500 for participating in the study. They will only be allowed to leave the study and return home after they are no longer deemed as no longer being infectious.

The study will be conducted at the Royal Free Hospital’s clinical research facilities in London, which are designed to contain the virus and prevent it from being spread.

Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, 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.”