CEPIImageOSLO/LONDON, March 11, 2024 - An international consortium of researchers specialising in human challenge studies is embarking on a US$57 million project to develop advanced, virus-blocking coronavirus vaccines that could stop SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses from infecting people in the first place.

Led by Imperial College London and co-funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe Programme and CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, the consortium of more than a dozen scientific teams and organisations will begin by running trials to select particular viruses and identify the best conditions under which to safely induce infection in healthy volunteers. A human challenge study is a carefully managed medical research study, during which volunteers are intentionally given an infection in a safe way, with healthcare support.

Researchers at multiple clinical research facilities will then use a selected virus to try to infect healthy volunteers who have received an experimental vaccine. Unlike traditional vaccines which are injected into muscle, these experimental vaccines will be inhaled into the lungs or sprayed in the nose and are designed to induce a type of protection known as mucosal immunity – which scientists believe could be the key to stopping onward transmission of coronaviruses.

“Vaccines that can stop transmission of a virus, rather than only reducing the severity of the disease it causes, are crucial to being able to end pandemics and epidemics swiftly,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEPI’s Chief Executive Officer. “If we could find a way to induce virus-blocking mucosal immunity with the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines, for example, we could then dramatically reduce the circulation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus andhence limit its ability to generate dangerous new variants.”

Human challenge studies are unique in their ability to investigate and understand the onset and development of disease in a safe and highly controlled environment. They enable scientists to observe and analyse complex interactions between viruses and the human immune system and to identify ways to disrupt and block viral infections.

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