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OFFICIAL CORRECTION-Britain moves closer to COVID-19 vaccine trials that infect volunteers

(Corrects story throughout to show company is in advanced talks and has not signed a deal)

LONDON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - “Human challenge” trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines, where volunteers are deliberately infected with the disease, could become a reality after a British biotech firm said it was in advanced talks with the government to create and provide strains of the virus.

Preliminary work for the trials, which aim to speed up the process of determining the efficacy of a vaccine candidate, is being carried out by hVIVO, a unit of pharmaceutical services company Open Orphan, hVIVO said on Friday.

If agreed, this would involve creating a human challenge study model that could be used should such trials gain ethical and safety approval from regulators.

Supporters of human challenge trials say they are a good way to cut short the often lengthy process of testing potential vaccines on tens of thousands of volunteers in the real world who go about normal life and are monitored to see if they contract the disease or are protected from it.

In these tightly-controlled trials, volunteers are given a vaccine and then about a month later are deliberately infected with the disease under controlled conditions. They are then isolated in a quarantine facility and monitored to see if they become sick or if the vaccine protects them.

Critics say deliberately infecting someone with a potentially deadly disease for which there is currently no effective treatment is unethical.

Any human challenge trials conducted in Britain would have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the healthcare regulator that looks into safety, ethics and protocol. (Additional reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Pravin Char and Carmel Crimmins)

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