Clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine are currently in their final stages via a number of drug companies, but a new set soon to begin in the UK promises to be "a little different from most." CNN reports the British government has signed a contract for the first "human challenge" studies, in which healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 30 will be dosed with the actual virus. Participants in trials thus far simply receive an experimental vaccine and then head home to go about their regular routine, where they may or may not be exposed to the virus naturally. In the new studies, managed by medical research firm hVIVO and Imperial College London, participants will receive "the very smallest dose" of the virus taken from a British COVID-19 patient to see what the minimal amount of virus is needed for infection, Dr. Martin Johnson, hVIVO's senior medical director, says.
The subjects, who will remain at London's Royal Free Hospital for the duration of the trial, will undergo daily and even hourly tests, per the Washington Post, then given the antiviral remdesivir as soon as they show symptoms. In a later phase of the study, volunteers will receive experimental vaccines, then be exposed to the virus. Advocates of these trials, which are scheduled to start early next year, say they're a faster way to track how the virus functions, with a small number of subjects taking on relatively low risk due to their age and health. Critics, however, worry about exposing volunteers to a disease for which there's not yet a cure. Despite concerns, the Guardian notes more than 2,500 UK volunteers have already signed up via the 1Day Sooner nonprofit, which reports nearly 40,000 interested individuals worldwide. The UK trials still need to get the green light from ethics regulators. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)