UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines

Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates. (File/AFP)
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Updated 24 September 2020

UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines

  • So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London
  • About 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner

LONDON: Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people involved in the project.
So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said, adding that about 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner.
Britain said it was working with partners on the potential for human challenge trials without commenting on a specific plan.
“We are working with partners to understand how we might collaborate on the potential development of a COVID-19 vaccine through human challenge studies,” a government spokeswoman said.
“These discussions are part of our work to research ways of treating, limiting and hopefully preventing the virus so we can end the pandemic sooner.”
The FT reported that the studies will be government funded, although 1Day Sooner said it would also launch a petition for public funding of a biocontainment facility big enough to quarantine 100 to 200 participants.
Open Orphan, a pharmaceutical services company cited in the FT report, confirmed in a statement early on Thursday that it is in “advanced negotiation with the UK Government and other partners for a coronavirus challenge study in the UK.”
“There can be no certainty that these discussions will lead to a new contract,” it added.
Imperial College London, cited by the FT as the academic lead on the trials, did not confirm the report.
“Imperial continues to engage in a wide range of exploratory discussions relating to COVID-19 research, with a variety of partners,” a spokeswoman said, asked about the possibility of challenge trials.
Any trials conducted in the United Kingdom would have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the health care regulator which looks into safety and protocol.
The MHRA did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment, but 1Day Sooner, which lobbies for challenge trials to accelerate vaccine development, welcomed the report.
“1Day Sooner congratulates the British government on their plans to conduct challenge trials to test vaccines,” it said in a statement, confirming it would petition the government to house the trial participants.
The industry has seen discussions in recent months about potentially having to inject healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus if drugmakers struggled to find enough patients for final trials.
The FT report did not name the vaccines that would be assessed in the project. British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and French firm Sanofi both told Reuters that their vaccine candidates were not involved in the program.


Report: Fugitive tech boss was Austrian spy agency informant

Updated 46 min 46 sec ago

Report: Fugitive tech boss was Austrian spy agency informant

  • Jan Marsalek faces allegations of fraud and other charges in connection with the company’s sudden bankruptcy earlier this year
  • German federal police issued a wanted poster for Marsalek in August

BERLIN: German media report that a fugitive former top executive of payment company Wirecard was an informant for the Austrian spy agency BVT.
Jan Marsalek, the former chief operating officer of Wirecard, faces allegations of fraud and other charges in connection with the company’s sudden bankruptcy earlier this year.
Munich-based Wirecard filed for protection from creditors in June after executives admitted that 1.9 billion euros ($2.2 billion) listed as being held in trust accounts in the Philippines probably did not exist.
The Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily reported Friday that German federal prosecutors have evidence Marsalek was a source for the BVT agency. The newspaper cited a German government response to Left party lawmaker Fabio De Masi.
German lawmaker Patrick Sensburg, who sits on the parliamentary intelligence oversight committee, told business daily Handelsblatt that Marsalek may have worked for several spy agencies simultaneously. He didn’t elaborate.
German federal police issued a wanted poster for Marsalek in August. Interpol issued a so-called red notice for him on allegations of “violations of the German duty on securities act and the securities trading act, criminal breach of trust (and) especially serious case of fraud.”
As chief operating officer, Marsalek was in charge of all operational business activities, including sales, and is suspected of having inflated the balance sheet total and sales volume of the company, police said.
Former Wirecard CEO Markus Braun has been arrested, along with the company’s former chief financial officer and former head of accounting.
Police allege that Braun and Marsalek incorporated “fictitious proceeds from payment transactions relating to deals with so-called third-party acquirers in order to present the company financially stronger and more attractive to investors and customers.”