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UK taps Open Orphan to explore vaccine trials

Healthy, young people in the U.K. may soon be asked to volunteer to get deliberately exposed to Covid-19 as part of a set of human challenge studies, which aim to speed up the process of vaccine development.

These studies, which are controversial in medical circles, essentially ask volunteers to be “challenged” with an infectious disease organism. The idea behind them is to recruit healthy, young people, inoculate them and then subsequently expose them to the virus to determine if the vaccine is effective. Proponents say such studies can speed up vaccine development, while others say these trials raise ethical questions.

The U.K. government has taken an initial step this week by signing a contract with a pharmaceutical services company called Open Orphan for a so-called characterization study, which involves identifying the most appropriate dose of the virus for use in future human challenge studies. 

Open Orphan (LON:ORPH) was founded in 2017, with the goal of rapidly building Europe’s leading pharma services company by a management team with extensive industry and financial expertise. The company comprises of two commercial specialist CRO services businesses (Venn Life Sciences and hVIVO) and is also developing a genomics data platform business (Genomic Health Data).