On 17 February 2021 it was announced that the UK would be the first country in the world to carry out a human infection study (also known as a human challenge study) with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
During this study, young, healthy volunteers will be deliberately infected with the virus so that researchers can learn more about the infection and test new vaccines and treatments in the future (here is a short animation and article explaining how human infection studies can speed up vaccine development).
The initial study is supported by a £33.6 million UK government investment and will be delivered by a partnership between Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the clinical company hVIVO.
During the initial study, up to 90 volunteers will be given the virus by drops in the nose in a safe and controlled environment. Only volunteers at the lowest risk of becoming severely unwell (young adults between 18-30 years old with no underlying health conditions) can take part.
The study is taking place in a controlled facility at the Royal Free Hospital in London, so the virus cannot be passed on to people outside the study. There are medical staff on-hand all the time closely monitoring the volunteers.
To begin with, the first small group of volunteers have been given a low dose of coronavirus, then researchers will slowly increase it in subsequent groups of volunteers until they find the minimum dose needed for most of the volunteers to get a positive coronavirus (COVID-19) PCR test result.
The following pages aim to provide more information about the benefits and risks of the human infection study with coronavirus and links to useful resources. If you’re interested in human infection studies in general, there are posts on our blog about their history and modern-day studies.