A subsidiary of Irish-based Open Orphan has signed a contract with the UK government to develop a "human challenge" study model for Covid-19 in a bid to accelerate the discovery of effective vaccines and antivirals.
Challenge studies involve healthy people being deliberately exposed to the virus in controlled settings.
London-based hVivo will undertake the project, which involves the manufacture of the challenge virus and the first-in-human characterisation study, in a bid to safely speed up the development of a effective vaccine.
The contract could be worth £10 million (€10.9 million) to hVivo, which has already developed eight human challenge study models and safely run more such studies than any other company globally. The study will be sponsored by Imperial College London and conducted by hVivo at the Royal Free Hospital's specialist research unit in London, and hVivo will expand its clinical operations in London to facilitate the work.
The company also said the UK government had secured the first three slots to test vaccines using hVivo’s Covid-19 challenge study, which is expected start in 2021. Each slot reservation costs £2.5 million, bringing the total value to £7.5 million.
The study will require regulatory and ethical approval, and is expected to be completed in May 2021. It enables identification of the most appropriate dose of the challenge virus for use in future human challenge studies.
"At Open Orphan we are pleased to be working on behalf of the UK government and in partnership with two great institutions, Imperial College London and the Royal Free Hospital. We look forward to working with our partners to develop a Covid-19 human challenge study model which will be used to safely accelerate the discovery of effective vaccines and antivirals against Covid-19," said Open Orphan executive chairman Cathal Friel.
“We hope our work will reduce the impact of Covid-19 on individuals and communities, and our thoughts go out to the many people whose lives have been affected by the pandemic.”