Imperial College scientists have hired UK CRO hVIVO to manufacture a test virus they will use to check if vaccines and antivirals work against new COVID-19 strains.
The contract will see hVIVO develop and manufacture a so called challenge virus based on emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. Once production is complete, the virus will be used to compare the efficacy of various vaccines and antivirals in trials run by hVIVO, Imperial and the Wellcome Trust.
A hVIVO spokeswoman told Clinical Insider “A human challenge study is a clinical study in which a small number of healthy volunteers are exposed to an infectious agent in a controlled setting and scientists and medics assess how effective vaccines or treatments are against the disease and identify any side effects. They are among the most efficient and scientifically powerful means for testing vaccine efficacy.”
She declined to say which variants will be manufactured as part of the contract but did say “In the early stages we will look at a number of variants and an ultimate decision of which one will be made as part of the process to determine which particular variant of concern is focused on.”
Chris Chiu, clinical reader in infectious diseases at Imperial, predicted the project will be important to efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the long term.
“By keeping up with viral evolution, we will be able to address even more relevant scientific questions and test the ability of immune responses after vaccination and infection to protect against different strains of SARS-CoV-2.
“We are committed to enhancing collaboration through sharing of this virus with academic investigators around the world who have capacity to conduct human infection challenge for academic purposes, thus further enhancing the pandemic response."
hVIVO chief scientific officer Andrew Catchpole, also stressed the importance of the project for future vaccine development programs.
“The availability of a variant SARS-CoV-2 virus will greatly expand the utility of the SARS-CoV-2 challenge model and allow us to answer a wider range of important scientific questions to aid control of the pandemic as well as facilitate further testing of vaccines designed against COVID-19."
hVIVO has been developing SARS-CoV-2 human challenge study models and viruses since October under a contract with the UK Government.
The deal with Imperial will utilize this working according Catchpole, who added that, “Production of a SARS-CoV-2 variant challenge virus builds upon our knowledge and learnings from manufacturing and characterizing the original Wuhan-like D614G SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
hVIVO is subsidiary of UK CRO Open Orphan, which runs challenge studies at two facilities in London.
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