The world's first Covid-19 human challenge study will begin within a month in the UK, the country's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said Wednesday in a statement.
During this trial, up to 90 volunteers aged 18-30 years will be exposed to Covid-19 in a safe and controlled environment to increase understanding of how the virus affects people, the ministerial department said, adding that the study will play a "key role in developing effective Covid-19 vaccines and treatments".
What is a challenge trial? In regular Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials tens of thousands of volunteers are given an experimental vaccine and then released to live their everyday lives; researchers assume that a certain percentage of them will be exposed to the virus naturally.
In a challenge trial, by contrast, participants are deliberately dosed with virus.
Proponents of challenge trials say that they are more efficient, requiring far fewer volunteers because researchers know for certain that everyone will be exposed to the virus, and that they can deliver scientific data more quickly.
Critics worry about exposing people to a virus for which there is no fail-safe treatment, and say that the young, healthy volunteers are not representative of the wider population.
BEIS said the version of the virus used would be the one in circulation since March 2020 -- rather than any new strains -- emphasizing that it "has been shown to be of low risk in young healthy adults."
After the initial trial, vaccine candidates which had been proved safe in clinical trials could be given to small numbers of volunteers, the department said.
Earlier this week the UK hit its target of offering a first dose of vaccine to 15 million people by mid-February.
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