Royal Free NHS Trust sign up government-backed Covid-19 ‘Human Challenge Study’ as part of vaccine hunt

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is...

A view of the Royal Free Hospital teaching hospital in the Hampstead area of the London Borough of Camden. The hospital is part of the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday February 6, 2020. Photo credit should read: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The Royal Free NHS Trust has joined a cutting-edge, government-backed project to speed-up the development of treatments and vaccines for Covid-19.

The trust is now part of the Human Challenge Programme, which will investigate how transmission of the coronavirus works –by looking at exposing healthy volunteers to small amounts of the virus.

The programme is a partnership between the hospital, government, Imperial College London, and business hVIVO and is funded by the department of business.

A study will take place under strict conditions at the Royal Free, and – subject to ethical approval – this could begin in early 2021.

Caroline Clarke, Royal Free group chief executive, said: “We are proud to be part of this hugely important partnership, which we hope will advance the world’s understanding of COVID-19 as we look to rapidly develop life-saving vaccines and treatments.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma added: “We are doing everything we can to fight coronavirus, including backing our best and brightest scientists and researchers in their hunt for a safe and effective vaccine. 

“The funding announced today for these ground-breaking but carefully controlled studies marks an important next step in building on our understanding of the virus and accelerating the development of our most promising vaccines which will ultimately help in beginning our return to normal life.”

Dr Chris Chiu, from the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London and lead researcher on the human challenge study, said: “Human challenge studies can increase our understanding of Covid-19 in unique ways and accelerate development of the many potential new Covid-19 treatments and vaccines.

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“Our number one priority is the safety of the volunteers. My team has been safely running human challenge studies with other respiratory viruses for over 10 years.”

Dr Chiu said no study was “risk-free”, but that everyone involved would be working hard to minimise the risks to volunteers.