Britain will be the first country to run a COVID-19 human challenge study, on which the country's clinical trials ethics body has given a favorable opinion, the Imperial College London announced on Wednesday.
The study, backed by a government investment, will involve up to 90 carefully selected, healthy adult volunteers being exposed to the novel coronavirus in a safe and controlled environment, according to the college.
It will help scientists understand how the immune system reacts to the novel coronavirus, and identify factors that influence how the virus is transmitted.
The study will be carried out by a partnership between the Imperial College London, the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust and the clinical company hVIVO.
Researchers are encouraging people aged between 18 and 30 years old, who are at the lowest risk of complications resulting from the novel coronavirus, to consider volunteering to take part.
The initial study will aim to establish the least amount of virus needed to cause COVID-19 infection. As there is much less information available about new virus variants, the doctors will use the original virus that has been circulating in Britain since March 2020.
Once the initial study has taken place, vaccine candidates, which have proven to be safe in clinical trials, could be given to small numbers of volunteers who are then exposed to COVID-19, helping to identify the most effective vaccines and accelerate their development, according to the college.
"No one vaccine is likely to be suited to everyone so we must continue to develop new vaccines and treatments for COVID-19," said Clive Dix, The Chair of the British government's Vaccines Taskforce.
"We expect these studies to offer unique insights into how the virus works and help us understand which promising vaccines offer the best chance of preventing the infection," said Dix.
England is currently under the third national lockdown since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Similar restriction measures are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States have been racing against time to roll out coronavirus vaccines.