(NEXSTAR) – Up to 90 healthy individuals between the ages of 18 and 30 will be deliberately exposed to COVID-19 as part of a forthcoming U.K. study.
The study, called the U.K. Covid Challenge, received ethics approval by the country’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on Wednesday.
According to a statement released by the department, the study will “begin in the next few weeks” and will expose “90 carefully selected, healthy adult volunteers” to the virus “in a safe and controlled environment.”
The study will play a “key role in developing effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.”
During regular vaccine trials, a participant is given an experimental vaccine then left to lead their regular life. A challenge trial, on the other hand, deliberately exposes participants to the virus whether or not they have already been vaccinated, according to the World Health Organization.
Such trials have previously been conducted for cholera, malaria, influenza and typhoid.
This particular study will use the virus that has been circulating in the U.K. since March — rather than the so-called “U.K. variant,” which is thought to be deadlier and more transmissible.
Medics and scientists will closely monitor the impacts of the virus on participants, and “will be on hand to look after them 24 hours a day,” according to the BEIS.
Once the initial study is complete, vaccine candidates — already proven safe in clinical trials — may be given to “small numbers” of volunteers who are then exposed to COVID-19 in order to “identify the most effective vaccines and accelerate their development.”
“While there has been very positive progress in vaccine development, we want to find the best and most effective vaccines for use over the longer term,” said Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng in a statement. “These human challenge studies will take place here in the UK and will help accelerate scientists’ knowledge of how coronavirus affects people and could eventually further the rapid development of vaccines.”
The administrators of the study are still accepting applications from potential volunteer participants.
There are more than 109,000,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID tracker. More than 2,425,000 people have died since the start of the pandemic.