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UK to infect healthy volunteers to speed up vaccine efforts

UK. In this August 5, 2020 file photo, senior Clinical Research Nurse Ajithkumar Sukumaran prepares the Covid-19 vaccine to administer to a volunteer at a clinic in London. (AP)

LONDON -- UK researchers are preparing to begin a controversial experiment that will infect healthy volunteers with coronavirus to study the disease in hopes of speeding up the development of a vaccine.

The approach, called a challenge study, is risky but proponents say it may produce results faster than standard research, which waits to see if volunteers who have been given an experimental treatment get sick. The government is preparing to invest 33.6 million pounds ($43.4 million) in the study.

Imperial College London said Tuesday that the study, involving healthy volunteers between 18 and 30, would be conducted in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and hVivo, a company that has experience conducting testing.

"Deliberately infecting volunteers with a known human pathogen is never undertaken lightly," said Peter Openshaw, co-investigator on the study. "However, such studies are enormously informative about a disease, even one so well studied as Covid-19."

In the first phase of the study, researchers will aim to determine the smallest level of exposure needed to cause the disease. Researchers will then use the same challenge model to study how potential vaccines work in the body, the body's immune response and potential treatments.

Vaccine Taskforce chair Kate Bingham said the research will improve our understanding of the virus and will help in making decisions about research.

“There is much we can learn in terms of immunity, the length of vaccine protection, and reinfection,'' she said in a statement. (AP)


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