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UK Research Ethics Committee’s review of the global first SARS-CoV-2 human infection challenge studies
  1. Hugh Davies
  2. On behalf of the HRA Specailist Research Ethics Committee
  1. Research Ethics, Health Research Authority, London OX2 6RT, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Hugh Davies, Health Research Authority, London OX2 6RT, UK; hughtdavies{at}


This paper describes the UK Research Ethics Committee’s (REC) preparations and review of the global first SARS-CoV-2 human infection challenge studies. To frame our review, we used the WHO guidance and our UK Health Research Authority ethical review framework. The WHO criteria covered most issues we were concerned about, but we would recommend one further criterion directing RECs to consider alternative research designs. Could research questions be equally well answered by less intrusive studies? The committee met virtually, ensuring broad representation across the UK nations and also ensuring applicants could attend easily. We worked in collaboration with the applicants but while we recognise that such proximity might raise the accusation of ‘collusion’, we made every effort to maintain ‘moral distance’ and all decisions were made by the committee alone. Prior existing processes and policy facilitated training and review but even with this preparation, review took time and this could have hindered a rapid response to the emergency. Review for the various follow-on studies will now be speedier and once the pandemic has subsided, our group could be reconvened in future emergencies. In conclusion, we have tried to make decisions in good faith. We know there is controversy and disagreement and reasonable people may feel we have made the wrong decision. A more detailed analysis, built on the WHO guidance, is provided in online supplemental material.

  • COVID-19
  • ethics- research
  • ethics committees
  • public policy

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Data availability statement

All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

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  • Contributors HD has written this article on behalf of the whole committee.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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