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.


Afghan vice president vows ‘no mercy’ in violent crime fight

Updated 24 October 2020

Afghan vice president vows ‘no mercy’ in violent crime fight

  • Former spy chief leads campaign after thefts, abductions sweep capital

KABUL: A security campaign spearheaded by Afghanistan Vice President Amrullah Saleh has been launched in Kabul following an outcry among residents over a recent surge in violent crime.

Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aryan said a mass manhunt began on Friday involving over 20,000 posters and photographs of hundreds of wanted criminals in the capital.

“These people have been involved in numerous crimes such as theft, armed robbery, abductions and killings and we are urging citizens to inform the police of their whereabouts,” he told Arab News.

Aryan said that Saleh’s extensive security experience as the country’s former spy chief will help him bring the situation under control.

When he assumed the new role last week, Saleh said in a Facebook post that he would take responsibility for security in the city and would show “no mercy” to criminals.

The vice president’s new security role comes after the Taliban distributed leaflets in parts of Kabul, promising citizens that they would patrol and arrest criminals, and sentence them in their own courts.

The recent spike in crime has also pushed residents to launch a social media campaign using the hashtag #Kabulisnotsafe. Some demanded severe punishment, such as dismemberment for robbery, which was imposed under Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 and led to a fall in crime figures.

Fawzia Nasiryar, a lawmaker from Kabul, said she and other legislators have received complaints from constituents over surging crime. Muggings and violent robberies even occur in broad daylight, she added.

Several attacks have led to deaths, she said.

Criminals have also targeted vulnerable groups, including children. Earlier this month thieves entered a high school to rob students, Nasiryar said.

“We hope that the vice president’s efforts will produce results and we witness a drop in the number of crimes,” she told Arab News, but added that it will be difficult to keep crime at bay when the war-torn country’s economy is so poor.

“As long as the economy is bad and there is joblessness, we won’t see improvement in the situation. Sadly, in a society where one person is rich out of 100 people, you will naturally see a rise in crimes.”

However, the increasing crime rate has also disrupted economic activity.

Jan Aqa Naweed, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Chambers of Commerce, told Arab News that surging crime in recent years has prompted hundreds of Afghan businessmen to leave the country, taking their capital and investments with them.

Some analysts argue that the vice president’s intervention is a mere public relations effort and will fail to achieve a lasting impact.

Wahidullah Ghazikhail said the security campaign only seeks to address public anger.

“This will have a temporary impact and is aimed at calming down the anger and sentiments of people,” he said.