• By The Financial District


In order to gain a better understanding of the coronavirus, a British study will intentionally infect participants with the pathogen, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy announced, Benedikt von Imhoff reported for Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa).

The study would be the world's first "human challenge" study on the novel coronavirus, it said. Up to 90 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 "will be exposed to COVID-19 in a safe and controlled environment to increase understanding of how the virus affects people," it said in a statement.

The participants would not be vaccinated beforehand, a ministry spokesperson said upon request. "Human challenge" trials, in which healthy people are exposed to a pathogen, have been used in the past, for example, in the development of flu or malaria vaccines. The ministry particularly encouraged young and healthy people to sign up for the project, which is set to start in the coming weeks, after it received approval from Britain's clinical trials ethics body.

However, "human challenge" studies are controversial. The German Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfa), for example, had rejected such tests as unethical in the fall.

"Challenge studies may show a distorted picture, since findings obtained only with young, healthy people may not be transferable to the elderly and chronically ill. But these groups of people are most at risk from COVID-19," the association said on its website. Artificially induced infections would not correspond to real infections in everyday life, it said.

"The safety of volunteers is paramount, which means this virus characterization study will initially use the version of the virus that has been circulating in the UK since March 2020 and has been shown to be of low risk in young healthy adults," the statement said. Participants would be monitored by doctors and researchers 24 hours a day and receive a compensation.

The aim of the study is to find out how the immune system responds to the virus and identify factors that influence how an infected person transmits the virus. The results will play a key role in the development of vaccines, the statement said, adding that in follow-up studies, participants could be exposed to the virus after being vaccinated with a new substance.


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