UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for Covid-19 vaccines

PM Boris Johnson has announced a range of new restrictions to combat the rise of Covid-19 cases in England. (AP pic)

LONDON: Britain will host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people involved in the project.

The government-funded project is expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said, adding that about 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner.

Any trials conducted in the United Kingdom have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the healthcare regulator which looks into safety and protocol.

The MHRA, 1Day Sooner and its 18-year old lead organiser, Alastair Fraser-Urquhart, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

The industry has seen discussions in recent months about potentially having to inject healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus if drugmakers struggled to find enough patients for final trials.

The FT report said that volunteers would first be inoculated with a vaccine and later receive a challenge dose of the coronavirus. It did not name the vaccines that would be assessed in the project.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca, whose experimental Covid-19 vaccine being developed with the University of Oxford is leading the race, told Reuters that it was not involved in the programme.

French firm Sanofi also told Reuters it was not part of the initiative.

Imperial College, which is developing its own coronavirus vaccine and is the academic partner of the programme, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.