GOSH set to take part in world first human challenge study to find a COVID-19 vaccine

National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre is set to play a crucial role in a new study exploring the possibility of running the first human challenge study to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

As part of the UK Government’s strategic pandemic response, plans for the world’s first human challenge study in COVID-19 has been announced today by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which is funding it through the Vaccines Taskforce with a £33.6m investment.

Human challenge studies offer a faster way to test vaccines than more traditional clinical trials, which could be crucial to evaluating COVID-19 vaccines when they are developed. This human challenge study will recruit healthy adult volunteers aged 18-30 and infect them with the COVID-19 virus via their nose.

The manufacturing of the virus will take place at GOSH in the brand-new facilities in the Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children. The centre is the largest single academic manufacturing unit for gene and cell therapies in the UK and one of the largest in the world. The facility is specially designed to manufacture products such as the virus that can cause COVID-19 in a safe way, with clean rooms and strict monitoring procedures.

GOSH’s excellence in this field is supported by researchers from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Great Ormond Street Hospital Biomedical Research Centre who were involved in the early stages of establishing the study. These researchers will also carry out much of the work required to manufacture the virus.  

When the virus has been manufactured, researchers will then use small doses find the smallest possible amount that can cause an infection of COVID-19. Volunteers will stay in a special unit at the Royal Free Hospital where they will be closely monitored. If this first part of the study – known as virus characterisation study – is a success, researchers may then be able to test if COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being developed could prevent the infection.

The research is a partnership between the UK Government, Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and hVIVO, a leading clinical company with significant experience in human challenge models for viruses.

Mat Shaw, Chief Executive of Great Ormond Street Hospital said; “Never has research been more important than now. GOSH’s commitment to research coupled with the world-class facilities in our Zayed Centre for Research into Rare Disease in Children mean that we can play our part in this important study.”

The Zayed Centre for Research opened to patients in October 2019 and the centre brings together pioneering research and clinical care under one roof that will help to drive forward new treatments and cures for seriously ill children from across the UK and international patients.

It was made possible thanks to a transformative £60 million gift from Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, wife of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founder of the United Arab Emirates, in 2014. Major contributions were also made by Research England, The Wolfson Foundation, John Connolly & Odile Griffith and the Mead Family Foundation. The centre is a partnership between Great Ormond Street Hospital, UCL and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.