Efforts to make a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine are pushed biotech companies to seek approval from regulators regarding the use of more controversial methods for testing. Right now, researchers are following a more traditional approach albeit with some assistance to speed up the process. So far, the majority of the jabs being tested have produced favourable results. Now, scientists from the United Kingdom are reportedly gearing up to conduct a challenge study to verify the potency of the inoculations.

Given the urgency brought upon by the pandemic, government healthcare officials are pressured to deliver positive results. Although preliminary, secondary, and even final phase trials have been shown to produce the intended results, it relies on patients being exposed to the 2019 novel coronavirus naturally. Thus, this makes it almost impossible to determine if the vaccine works if exposure does occur.

Specialists who are proponents of challenge studies have been calling for its implementation for several months now. Unfortunately, regulators were opposed to the idea given that there is currently no treatment available for COVID-19. Although treatments such as the antiviral remdesivir and antibody therapy from Regeneron have been recently proclaimed as potential candidates, experiments reportedly show that it needs more testing.

The British government reportedly committed to investing approximately $43.4 million for the challenge study which will hopefully identify which vaccine will work best against SARS-CoV-2. The Independent notes that the healthy volunteers will be aged between 18 to 30 years old, as detailed by Imperial College London.

Moreover, it will be a partnership between the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust, hVivo, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industry Strategy. "Deliberately infecting volunteers with a known human pathogen is never undertaken lightly,'' stated study co-investigator, Peter Openshaw. "However, such studies are enormously informative about a disease, even one so well studied as COVID-19. ''

coronavirus vaccine
Hopes for a vaccine have been dealt a blow by news Johnson & Johnson had halted a trial after a volunteer fell ill Photo: POOL / LEWIS WHYLD

According to sources, the early phase of the challenge study is to understand what level of exposure would trigger COVID-19 in healthy subjects. The ultimate goal is to ascertain how each of the vaccine candidates performs against the pathogen. This should likewise allow researchers to observe the body's immune response to hopefully develop treatments that would work effectively against the 2019 nCoV.