Q&A: Human Challenge Studies of COVID-19 Underway in UK

I work at Oxford, where we have a really well-established program using the malaria challenge model to test prospect malaria vaccines. When a new pathogen emerges, it makes sense in that context to believe about whether we can develop a challenge model, knowing the energy of these designs to complement knowledge gotten from other sources– from natural history studies, from animal research studies, from in vitro research studies.
What were the challenges? Well … a year earlier, fifteen months earlier, we didnt understand very much about SARS-CoV-2, and its challenging to think of establishing a human challenge design when you do not truly know much about what occurs in a natural infection. I believe weve come a long method and discovered substantial quantities, and by the time that we and Imperial College– who are also conducting a parallel research study, these research studies are very complementary– had actually begun our obstacle research studies, we in fact knew quite a lot about SARS-CoV-2 infection in human beings. And we understand that for the overwhelming bulk of young, healthy, healthy people who become infected, they have an extremely moderate health problem. Thats when you begin to believe, Okay, well, if we can identify a [ subgroup of people for whom] this is a very mild or asymptomatic infection, then thats the group that we might possibly utilize in a human obstacle model.

TS: Did you make any modifications? How did you determine your dosage?
HM: We didnt make any modifications at all; this is really the unchanged infection that has actually been manufactured to … great production practice conditions to make it safe– thats the highest requirement for manufacture for things to be checked in people. In regards to the dose, we and Imperial are both performing a dose-escalation research study. Thats the first part of the obstacle design … to develop the best dose. Imperial College are infecting seronegative individuals, so people who have not previously had SARS-CoV-2 infection. We are, on the other hand, deliberately infecting people who are seropositive, i.e., people who have actually a recorded previous SARS-CoV-2 infection.

TS: It sounds like youre preparing on doing additional difficulty research studies. Can you elaborate on why you see this as an useful tool for studying COVID-19 moving forward?
The issue with those research studies, or limitation of those studies, if you like, is we dont know whether somebody has actually not been reinfected since they have protective resistance, or it may simply be that they have not been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, and thats why theyve not been reinfected. Whereas in these research studies, due to the fact that we understand we are exposing everyone in a really regulated method, if individuals are not infected after that regulated direct exposure, we understand they need to have protective immunity.

Helen McShane
OXFORD MAIL

When a brand-new pathogen emerges, it makes sense in that context to think about whether we can establish an obstacle design, knowing the utility of these designs to match understanding gained from other sources– from natural history research studies, from animal studies, from in vitro studies.
Well … a year back, fifteen months back, we didnt understand very much about SARS-CoV-2, and its tough to believe about establishing a human challenge design when you dont actually know much about what occurs in a natural infection. I think weve come a long way and found out huge amounts, and by the time that we and Imperial College– who are also performing a parallel study, these studies are very complementary– had actually begun our obstacle studies, we really understood quite a lot about SARS-CoV-2 infection in people. Thats the very first part of the challenge design … to develop the best dose. The model that Imperial are establishing, where theyre looking at individuals who are ignorant, is establishing a human obstacle design where you can really test vaccine efficacy utilizing this challenge design.

The Scientist: When and why did you first begin believing about carrying out challenge trials for COVID-19? And what were a few of the challenges you faced in getting them off the ground?

TS: How did you establish the real obstacle? Which virus variation did you start with? And what changes did you make, if any?
Thats what we started with. There are discussions underway … about producing a 2nd pressure, which may be one of the new versions, however we will first get some robust data utilizing the Wuhan stress.

When the SARS-CoV-2 began circulating around the world in 2015, researchers acquainted with the principle of obstacle trials considered the idea of deliberately contaminating human beings with the infection in a controlled way to get more information about this unique pathogen. Now, 2 such trials are underway in the UK, one intended at determining the very best dose for triggering infection but not making volunteers too ill, and another at understanding their immune action to the virus.
See “A Challenge Trial for COVID-19 Would Not Be the First of Its Kind”
The Scientist spoke with Helen McShane, a vaccine scientist at the University of Oxford who is heading up one of the trials, about the logistics, hurdles, and value of this research study.

Editors note: This interview was edited for brevity.

TS: What are the varying goals of those 2 research studies– in between contaminating seronegative and seropositive people?
Because we know we are exposing everybody in an extremely controlled way, if people are not contaminated after that controlled exposure, we understand they need to have protective immunity.
Our research study, which is contaminating people who are seropositive, is very particularly intending at defining protective immunity. … We may see, for example, that individuals who have a level of neutralizing antibodies above a specific point can not be reinfected. The design that Imperial are establishing, where theyre looking at individuals who are naive, is establishing a human difficulty model where you can in fact evaluate vaccine effectiveness utilizing this challenge design.
See “More SARS-CoV-2 Reinfections Reported, But Still a Rare Event”

TS: Tell me a bit more about the logistics of these trials. These individuals have to come in and be quarantined for some duration of time throughout the research study?
Topics are confessed 2 days prior to the shot, where we do the last round of screening tests. And then after shot, they are in quarantine for at least fourteen days and till they are not infectious. We take two times everyday swabs to test for PCR to see whether theyre infected, and its only when they are uninfectious that we can launch them.