United Kingdom trial reinfects volunteers who have had coronavirus

Laverne Higgins
April 21, 2021

The Oxford study will take phase in two phases. Challenge trials, involving deliberate, supervised infections, are seen as particularly helpful for answering questions like these, because they allow scientists to scrutinize the details of how the body confronts the virus and vice versa. Participants will be infected with the original strain from Wuhan, China and followed for a year.

In February, Britain became the first country in the world to give the go-ahead for so-called "challenge trials" in humans, in which volunteers are deliberately exposed to Covid-19 to advance research into the disease caused by the coronavirus. Researchers will test the baseline of immune response of volunteers before they infect them and then measure the amount of virus they can detect after the infection.

While there has been much public discussion about Covid vaccines protecting the most vulnerable and stopping infection spread, advancements in treatments for coronavirus have received less media coverage.

Oxford University is now looking to carry out a study to find out how the immune system reacts to being infected with the virus a second time.

The first phase, which will start this month, will establish the lowest dose of virus which, in approximately 50 per cent of people who have previously been naturally infected, can take hold and start replicating but produce little or no symptoms.

This dose will then be used to infect participants in the second phase of the study, expected to start in the summer.

They will also measure the immune response at several time points after infection to understand what immune response is generated by the virus.

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Chris Chiu, a researcher from Imperial College London working on the previously announced human challenge trial, says this new study, in conjunction with his work investigating preliminary infections, will offer valuable data.

Reuters quoted Helen McShane, a University of Oxford vaccinologist and chief investigator on the latest study, as saying: "The information from this work will allow us to design better vaccines and treatments, and also to understand if people are protected after having COVID, and for how long".

Participants will be quarantined for 17 days and cared for by researchers at a hospital until they are no longer at risk of infecting others, and they will receive just under £5,000 as payment.

Any participants, recruited on a voluntary basis, who develop any symptoms will be given medical treatment with the Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment. The research will last for about a year, including a minimum of eight follow-up appointments after being discharged.

Critics of challenge trials have pointed out the ethical dangers of infecting people without being sure of its long-term consequences.

Previous studies have shown that a prior coronavirus infection will not necessarily fully protect young people from being reinfected with the virus.

Research by British scientists has established that both steroid dexamethasone and tocilizumab, an arthritis drug developed by Roche, reduced the risk of death in patients with severe COVID-19.

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