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BSI response to human challenge studies for COVID-19

20 October 2020

Today, Imperial College London has announced that UK researchers are set to explore a human challenge study for COVID-19. The Human Challenge Programme will be carried out in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), hVIVO and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. In response, the British Society for Immunology has put out the following statement:

Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Human challenge trials are studies where healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with a bacteria or virus so that researchers can test the effectiveness of possible vaccines or therapeutics. This type of study has well established protocols and has been used to successfully to test vaccines for other diseases such as malaria, cholera and influenza. These studies are always carried out under the strictest safety procedures with approval from the relevant authorities. 

“News that the team at Imperial College London are going to be looking into the feasibility of human challenge studies for COVID-19 is to be welcomed. The COVID-19 pandemic is the major medical challenge of our age and human challenge trials have enormous potential to increase our knowledge of the disease and accelerate our ability to develop successful vaccines and therapeutics. By carrying out this type of study in a controlled environment, researchers can learn at pace about the disease, which will ultimately increase our ability to control the pandemic and save lives.

“While human challenge studies have the potential to hugely increase our understanding of which treatments or vaccines may be effective against a disease, it’s important to remember that no studies of this type are completely free of risk. One aspect that will need to be taken into consideration with COVID-19 is that we don’t currently have many proven treatments to give to people who become very sick with the illness. The research team will be acutely aware of this and there will be many stages to this project all aimed at minimising risk of harm to volunteers – this starts with finding out the minimum amount of virus needed to infect each individual. UK researchers are world leaders in carrying out this type of trial and will use all this experience to explore the possibility of human challenge studies for COVID-19.”

You can read the full press release from Imperial College London here.