SCIENTISTS racing to find a coronavirus vaccine will infect volunteers with a strain of the deadly bug – for £3,500.
Up to 24 people at a time will be paid to be infected with a less harmful form of Covid-19 at a lab in east London, as part of a global experiment.
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Experts hope it will help them develop a vaccine that could be used next winter to protect the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.
Testing will begin once Hvivo, the company that runs the quarantine unit at the Queen Mary BioEnterprises Innovation Centre in Whitechapel, has secured permission from the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Scientists will infect participants with two common strains of coronavirus – 0C43 and 229E – which cause mild respiratory illness.
Professor John Oxford, an expert in virology at the Queen Mary University of London, said volunteers would feel the symptoms of a cough or cold, which would model those of Covid-19.
He told The Times: “If it works on our little virus, it is very likely to work in the real world."
Before they can take part, volunteers will be questioned about their medical history and given blood, urine, and cardiac tests.
They will also be screened to ensure they don't already have antibodies against coronavirus.
Andrew Catchpole, Hvivo’s chief scientist, told the paper: “We’ve actually all been exposed to many coronaviruses, which means we could have some kind of underlying immunity to it."
Participants who are given clearance to take part will then attend the lab where they will be inoculated before going into isolation for 14 days.
During that time they will be unable to have physical contact with other people.
The only human contact they will have is with nurses and doctors in protective gear and ventilators who will enter the room for regular nasal swabs and blood tests.
Medics will also collect any dirty tissues so they can be weighed to measure their "viral load".
Researchers say it will allow them to test the efficacy of new viruses and antiviral medications in a safe environment.
The testing is part of a $2bn global effort to find a vaccine for Covid-19, which has now infected more than 110,00 people worldwide.
Last week, the UK Government pledged £46million for vaccine research and faster testing.
Boris Johnson’s funding boost is coming from the UK’s foreign aid budget and brings the Government’s commitment up to £91million.
Mr Johnson is confident that the funding will be able to deliver a vaccine in a year’s time.
It comes as a top medical expert warned Brits can now catch coronavirus“from anyone, anywhere, anytime” — and admitted we have lost track of who has it.
A surge in cases not linked to trips abroad, or contact with known carriers, means the bug is now spreading from person to person within the UK.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, said: “The implication is we are now in the phase of ‘community transmission’.
“We no longer know where the virus is. You could catch it from anyone, anywhere, anytime — in your supermarket, coffee shop, petrol station or pub.”
Dr Pankhania added: “Preventative measures, such as handwashing and catching sneezes, are more important than ever.
“This is serious and not a joke. You have no idea how an individual may react if they catch it, so do not take risks.”
The Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance added: “We can expect more cases. This is now outbreaks in the community.”
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