British researchers and scientists are growing the Delta COVID variant to purposely infect volunteers. The samples are being developed for challenge trials, and participants can be paid up to £4,500.
Challenge trials mean infecting healthy people with the virus, then giving them the vaccine to see if it can clear the virus. There are already two trials conducted by the Imperial College London and the University of Oxford. The trials started in March with the aim to develop new vaccines and treatments, the Daily Mail reported.
Forty young and healthy volunteers were exposed to the original Wuhan strain and are being supervised cautiously.
The next stage of the trial will infect the participants with the more contagious Delta strain that is currently dominating in the UK.
Challenge-trial partner hVivo and colleagues in the Netherlands have been growing the variant, Andrew Catchpole, the company’s chief scientific officer, said. The virologist also said that the variant, which they have been growing from the original human sample, is seen to be harder to develop when compared to the original Wuhan strain.
“Delta has been more difficult. Not all clinical samples grow as readily in cell cultures,” Catchpole told Wall Street Journal. Though considered to be more difficult, researchers have enough of it to start the early-stage testing.
In the growing process, scientists make sure the virus does not mutate differently from the naturally occurring variant.
hVivo plans to transfer the Delta virus to London in the following weeks to further produce more. Its goal is to produce around half a liter by November. Trials using the Delta strain aim to begin at the end of the year.
Dr. Garth Rapeport, respiratory-viral infection specialist said: “It’s not that dissimilar to making vaccines. It has to be highly controlled and regulated.”
Rapeport has helped in the initial set up of trials and said that the quick spread of the Delta variant has made the original Wuhan strain irrelevant.
The researchers are urging people between ages 18 to 30, at low risk of being seriously ill with COVID-19, to volunteer for the trials. Participants are accepted in the study only if they have no previous history or symptoms of COVID-19, no underlying health conditions, and if they are not smoking, overweight, and such.
Vaccines are typically tested in two groups of people, both groups will need to contract the virus naturally.
One group will be given the vaccine and the other will be used as a control. Traditional trials also require thousand of participants but in these challenge trials, the volunteers are much smaller since each participant is assured to get infected with the disease.