Open Orphan says Covid infection study may accelerate new vaccines

Shares in Open Orphan were up almost 5% in late morning trading in London

Open Orphan’s shares rose on Thursday after the prestigious Nature scientific journal published peer-reviewed research on the clinical trials company’s study of deliberately infecting people with Covid, showing that the model was safe in healthy young adults.

The company's hVivo subsidiary began the so-called human challenge study a year ago in partnership with Imperial College London, the UK Vaccine Taskforce, UK Department of Health and Social Care, and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. It involved 36 volunteers aged 18-29 years, without evidence of previous infection or vaccination, being infected with the original strain of the virus and closely monitored in a controlled setting.

The peer-reviewed results in Nature back up initial findings last month that the world’s first human challenge Covid trial was safe, paving the way for the model to be used for future studies to test new vaccines and medicines against strains of the virus.

Human trials

Scientists have used human challenge trials for decades to learn more about diseases such as malaria, flu, typhoid and cholera, and to develop treatments and vaccines against them.


"First generation vaccines are not the final answer to eradicating the virus. Uneven vaccine delivery and breakthrough infections mean that outbreaks will continue to happen for months and years to come," said Cathal Friel, executive chairman of Open Orphan.

“New variants of the virus mean vaccines will likely have to be adjusted to ensure effectiveness but our capacity to test them in field studies alone will be difficult. Human challenge will be the fastest way to compare old and new vaccines.”

Open Orphan avoided signing commercial Covid-19 challenge study contracts until the model was proven to be safe and the results of the study were published.

“Furthermore, we also held off until Covid-19 became less pathogenic (ie less dangerous), we now know that the Omicron variant is much less pathogenic than the original virus and previous variants, and as such going forward, this is a good disease indication for commercial challenge studies,” Mr Friel said.

Shares in Open Orphan were up almost 5 per cent at 14p in late morning trading in London on Thursday.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times