UNIVERSITY researchers are due to work on a project to speed up the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Medical researchers from the University of Southampton are offering expert input towards the study to explore and establish human challenge trials in the UK.

In human challenge studies, carefully selected healthy adult volunteers are exposed to the virus in a safe and controlled environment.

Medics and scientists then closely monitor the effect on volunteers 24 hours per day to see exactly how the vaccine works and to identify any side effects.

This offers the chance to accelerate development of promising vaccines, potentially saving thousands of lives.

Robert Read, Professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of Southampton, and Director of the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre helped devise the strategy for this Controlled Human Challenge study.

He said: "This research will make an important contribution to the development and testing of new vaccines for COVID-19.

"The research team comprises some of the UKs most experienced medical scientists from leading UK universities, and our focus will be on the safety of the people who volunteer to take part."

Using controlled doses of virus, the aim of the research team will initially be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause Covid-19 infection using groups of young, healthy people.

Up to 90 volunteers could be involved in the research which is backed by a £33.6m investment by the government in partnership with Imperial College London, hVIVO, a world leader in the testing of vaccines, and the Royal Free London NHS Trust.

This study will take place in the clinical facilities at the Royal Free Hospital, specifically designed to contain the virus.

If approved by regulators and the ethics committee, it will start in January with results expected by May 2021.