The British government is supporting human trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine in which healthy human subjects will be infected with the virus to accelerate the process.
The tests will be conducted by Imperial College London as part of a partnership between government, laboratory and trial services company hVIVO and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
The government is providing $43.5 million to fund the project, which, if approved by regulators and an ethics committee, would start in January with results expected by May 2021.
Researchers say they are seeking recruits between the ages of 18 and 30 with no previous history or symptoms of COVID-19 and no underlying health conditions or adverse factors. They say in the initial phase of the testing, their goal would be to discover the least amount of the virus it takes to infect a person.
Once that phase is complete, the researchers say they would study how the vaccine works in the body to stop or prevent COVID-19 and investigate possible treatments.
The risk for the volunteers is that at the time of their infection, there will be no known cure. The Imperial College lead researcher on the project, Dr. Chris Chiu, insists the safety of the volunteers is the number one priority. He says while no study like this is risk free, scientists would work as hard as possible to limit the risks.
The upside, Chiu says, is that these so-called “human challenge studies” can increase understanding of a virus like COVID-19 in unique ways and accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines.