Archive For The “Israeli Medicine” Category

Israel about to go on 2nd Lockdown, but will it work?

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Israel about to go on 2nd Lockdown, but will it work?

If all goes as planned this Friday, Israel will become the first developed country to impose a second nationwide COVID-19 lockdown to try and curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. While the prime minister announced earlier this week that rising infection rates leave no choice but to initiate another shutdown, a new study by the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research shows the coronavirus chaos in Israel won’t abate until there’s a national coronavirus strategy.

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“We’re stumbling into the second lockdown instead of entering it with clear entrance and exit strategies. The government has not put forth any coherent policy detailing their long term strategy for dealing with a pandemic that will continue to be highly contagious and deadly,” pending a vaccine, Professor Dan Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Public Policy and head of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research, tells NoCamels.

Israel has created an awkward name for itself during this COVID-19 health crisis. On the one hand, this country’s entrepreneurs are wowing the world with adaptive tech solutions for the healthcare arena that can be found in use in hospitals the world over.

On the other hand, the country’s lack of strategy for navigating this deadly virus has become a warning for others around the world as to what happens when you don’t have a plan and try to return to “normal” too quickly.

Israel’s first coronavirus lockdown

In late February, the first novel coronavirus cases were recorded in Israel. In March, Israel became one of the first countries hit by the coronavirus crisis to go into a national lockdown. The news showed horrors in Italy, Spain and then New York as they battled against the novel coronavirus.A graph by the Shoresh Institution showing the daily deaths from COVID-19 and the percentage of daily positive results from COVID-19 tests in Israel.
“We can’t avoid a worldwide pandemic. When we closed the country in the spring, we had the opportunity to prepare for the future. We knew that there wasn’t going to be a vaccine until the end of the year, at least, and we knew that the virus wasn’t going to get any less infectious,” Ben-David tells NoCamels. “We could have planned for this in advance.”

In April, the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research put out an outline of how Israel could utilize its unique features to get rid of the virus within its borders. A number of other “exit strategy” plans were penned by scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs on how to emerge from the lockdown.

According to the report, Israel’s health system entered the COVID-19 pandemic with the developed world’s most overcrowded hospitals, a small healthcare workforce, and the highest mortality rates from infectious diseases than other developed countries due to continued neglect and mismanagement of its healthcare system.

“In the first wave, we reacted as we did because we had no choice. Not only are we the number one country in the developed world in terms of people dying from infectious diseases, we’re 69 percent above the number two country, we’re on a different graph altogether,” Ben-David says.

“When this thing hit, this is the Uber of infectious diseases, we’re already in a terrible situation in this regard, we had no choice but to clap down before we outdid Italy.

But while the citizens of Israel stayed at a social distance, for the most part, the government acted against their own regulations.

“When people saw on the news the alternative is Italy, Spain, New York, it was clear why we need to be closed down. But we also saw during Passover that the country’s leaders are ignoring the same rules they force on us, so maybe it’s not so serious,” says Ben-David.

The “yihye beseder” (“it will be okay”) attitude, so deeply rooted in Israeli culture and which is anything but comforting, started to creep back into the daily conversation – both from a governmental point of view and amongst citizens. “There’s no reason to believe ‘yihye beseder’ but that’s the way things operate,” says Ben-David.

The Shoresh report shows that 198 people died from COVID-19 in April, and that number fell to 69 in May and 35 in June. Today, there are over 3,100 new recorded infections daily and over 1,100 people have died of the disease. More than 500 people are currently in serious condition.

“When we closed things down, that was our opportunity to prepare and get rid of the virus within Israel. That was the first thing that should have been done and didn’t get done. And then on May 26, when things were at their best, the prime minister went out and said, ‘go enjoy life.’ There was no contingency plan. The virus didn’t stop becoming contagious or deadly,” he says, noting in the report that following the prime minister’s public green light for the population to return to its daily routines infections shot up, reaching eight percent in August. Unsurprisingly, compliance has also changed and it will be interesting to see how the population reacts to a second lockdown.

“The situation has changed in the second wave. While predominantly Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] municipalities are still among the most infected municipalities, they have been joined at the top of the distribution by many Arab-Israeli municipalities with very high infection rates,” write Ben-David and Prof. Ayal Kimhi, authors of the Shoresh study, Anarchy at the helm with COVID-19 on deck.

“The difference between the first and second waves may be rooted in behavioral changes. The complete lockdown during the first wave yielded a sense of emergency resulting in higher compliance with government orders almost everywhere – except the religious boarding schools – including in the Arab-Israeli sector. The evidently-too-rapid exit from the lockdown alongside the very inconsistent and contradictory government policies and statements has since led to considerably less compliance during the second wave. This was particularly true in the Arab-Israeli sector, with mayors of several large Arab-Israeli towns publicly testifying to this effect,” the authors write.

‘Governmental anarchy’

The study’s authors warn that Israel is on the verge of self-implosion because of what they call government anarchy.

“Israel’s governmental anarchy is occurring during one of the worst crises in Israel’s history. Cabinet meetings, held weekly even during periods of wars, are being habitually canceled week after week. No budget for the country is in the offing while the country’s top civil servants from across the spectrum, from the economic through the health to the law enforcement and judicial systems are coming under increasing personal attacks by the very politicians who appointed them,” they write.

Case in point was the July appointment of Prof. Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, to lead the country’s efforts in combatting the virus – five months after the COVID-19 outbreak in Israel. “The government is still unwilling to define what powers and what authority Gamzu has to actually deal with the epidemic. As a result, there is an incessant flow of contradictory directives by leading cabinet ministers – not to mention persistent calls for his resignation from top politicians from the ruling party – that undermine his ability to manage the government’s efforts,” reads the report.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Sheba Medical Center in February 2020, as the hospital prepares to care for 11 Israelis back from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship. Photo: Haim Zach / GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Sheba Medical Center in February 2020, as the hospital prepares to care for 11 Israelis back from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship. Photo: Haim Zach / GPO
SEE ALSO: Israeli Data Scientist Suggests ‘End of Coronavirus Peak’ Is Near

“We don’t know where our leadership wants to go, how they want to get there – and there are some fairly clear indications that for the past six and a half months since this [pandemic] hit Israel, the person leading the country has extraneous interests that override any of his thinking in this regard,” Ben-David tells NoCamels.

“So we’re like a national pinball machine, bouncing from one directive that smacks us to the next, and hoping that someone will save us from Israel’s worst governance vacuum during its worst health crisis and economic recession on record,” he charges.

And the ostensibly comforting catchphrase “yihye beseder” is not encouraging.

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Israeli Data Scientists Believe The End ‘of the peak’ of Coronavirus is Near

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Israeli Data Scientists Believe The End ‘of the peak’ of Coronavirus is Near

An Israeli data scientist from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has suggested that the “end of the coronavirus peak” is just weeks away.

Professor Mark Last, a BGU professor at the Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering and head of the university’s Data Science Research Center, tells NoCamels that a data model he created based on both daily deaths attributed to coronavirus, reported by the Israeli Ministry of Health, and published results of serological tests (tests that look for antibodies) indicates that, in a few weeks, coronavirus infection rates will begin to decline. Furthermore, according to the model, another lockdown is not necessary and herd immunity is imminent.

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“Soon we should have enough people in the population who were at some stage infected with the coronavirus and these people have antibodies,” he says. “We should have enough people to cause a decline in the daily number of new infections. That’s the thing — according to my model, it should happen within the next few weeks. I cannot say exactly when, it’s an estimation, but that’s the forecast.”

When pressed further, Prof. Last said it could happen as soon as two to three weeks, but he cannot give an exact time.

“I cannot say exactly in 10 days, it’s going to happen. I don’t have such accurate data.”

“Lockdown is the perfect solution to stop the pandemic if you can keep it forever,” Prof. Last says, “But every day of a lockdown has some kind of cost associated with it. And the benefit would be very short because after it ends, everything goes [back to normal], and then we have more cases when things reopen.”

Israel was one of the first countries hit by the coronavirus crisis to go into a national lockdown for about five weeks between March and April before reopening in May. But during the lockdown, the country’s unemployment rate skyrocketed to over 25 percent, with over a million people out of work at the time.

Herd immunity
Herd immunity occurs when a large percentage of the population becomes immune to a disease, which makes the spread of disease from person to person unlikely, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to his calculations, Prof. Last suggests that herd immunity is around the corner because “we need 1.16 million people with antibodies in order to achieve herd immunity and we are very close to that number.”

Last says that a report based on tests conducted by a Health Ministry team, initial serological tests indicate that only one in 10 of Israel’s coronavirus cases is actually confirmed.

“Their conclusion was that the ratio of the actual number of infected people to the number of confirmed cases is 10 to one,” he explains, “So you can take the total number of confirmed cases reported this morning, something like 114,000 and you multiply it by 10 and you get an estimated number of people with antibodies of the total number of people who were infected.”

He says this assumption is based on international research that has certain populations being given antibody blood tests to show who had the virus at some point.

Prof. Last noted that international research suggests that the number varies between five and 10, according to antibody blood tests that show who had the virus. Thus, he says Israel’s one in 10 ratio is quite reasonable.

“If the number is larger, it means that there is a larger amount of people who are infected and probably they have no symptoms, they’re not aware of the fact that they’re infected,” he says.

While no one can know the actual number of infected cases in the country unless the entire population is tested every day, Prof. Last says that according to these numbers “we now have slightly above one million people with antibodies in Israel and we need at least 1.2 million.

Mortality rate
Prof. Last’s data model predicts the country’s mortality rate, the number of daily death cases attributed to COVID-19, and it can be evaluated by comparing a predicted cumulative number of deaths in Israel, and the actual number.

“In my testing experiments, I found out that this model stays pretty accurate for a relatively long period of time. I’m talking about at least a few weeks and even longer in Israel. “We have excellent numbers. It’s not related to my model, but generally we have excellent numbers in terms of the mortality rates for criticially ill patients.”

While the numbers may seem high — the death toll in Israel currently stands at 922, according to figures from the Health Ministry (Hebrew) — Prof. Last admits that his data model has been fairly accurate.

“On August 4, my model predicted 929 death cases by Aug. 31,” he said.

Prof. Last also says that Israel’s health system has managed to keep the percentage of deaths from COVID-19 to under one percent, out of the total number of confirmed cases, while other countries had higher rates such as Italy with 16 percent and Sweden with 14 percent.

“The average daily mortality rate is not going up for probably about two months now,” he explains. “If you look at the so-called number of confirmed cases, it is also very stable.”

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Health announced that it had undercounted Israel’s COVID-19 deaths and that it had failed to include 53 fatalities at senior living homes during July and August in its official count.

For Prof. Last, this was a good sign. He had believed that there was some strange discrepancy, which gave him doubts about the reliability of his model.

“Then, one day, they announced that actually some cases were not reported initially, and I put the new numbers on the curve. And I see that the predictions and the actual numbers aligned together,” he tells NoCamels, “After they corrected the reporting, my model became much more accurate.”

Prof. Last remains cautiously optimistic about the COVID-19 pandemic in Israel.

“I don’t think we need any significant change in the current policy, in the current restrictions,” he tells NoCamels, “But we should get used to these restrictions because probably we’ll have to live with these restrictions for quite some time.”

“We are heading in the right direction,” he adds in a BGU statement, “but it is important not to relax our restrictions or get overconfident.”

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Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug May Help Kids With Autism

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Experimental Alzheimer’s Drug May Help Kids With Autism

Israeli scientists are suggesting that an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease may help children with autism, according to an extensive study published last month in the academic journal Translational Psychiatry.

The study was led by Professor Illana Gozes of the Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry at Tel Aviv University and included researchers from Tel Aviv University, the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital, and research institutions across Europe (the biotechnology institute BIOCEV in the Czech Republic, the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, the University of Antwerp in Belgium, and the University Hospital Centre in Zagreb, Croatia).

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Prof. Gozes is a leading neuroscientist and an expert in the field of tauopathy (one of the leading pathologies in Alzheimer’s disease), a pathology characterized by deposition of the protein Tau in the brain. It is found in neurodegenerative diseases, the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.

The study in question looked at protein deposits found in the postmortem brain of a seven-year-old child with autism from Croatia. The child had ADNP syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum characterized by intellectual disability, and impaired communication and social interaction. The syndrome causes a deficiency or malfunctioning of the ADNP protein, which is essential for brain development.

Twenty years ago, the activity-dependent neuroprotective protein ADNP was discovered and characterized in the laboratory of Prof. Gozes. She and her team learned that ADNP is vital for brain formation and presents one of the leading mutated genes that cause ADNP syndrome, a condition within the autism spectrum. Prof. Gozes also linked ADNP to Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

“ADNP protects against electrical blockades and we need the electricity in order for our brain to function. We realized it might be a very important protein and when we [took it out] of animals, there was no brain. So it is essential for the formation of the brain,” Prof. Gozes tells NoCamels.

It was only after the ADNP protein was created that researchers realized that autism could be determined by genetics. That was when they discovered that if a child is born with one mutation in a very critical gene, it can cause autism.

“When ADNP syndrome was discovered some six years ago,” Prof. Gozes says, “suddenly, ADNP became a leading gene to cause the de novo mutation [genetic alteration] which is found in children within the autism spectrum.”

Upon examining the brain of this seven-year-old child and comparing it to the brain of a 31-year-old adult with no preexisting conditions, the researchers found deposits of the tau protein in the child’s brain tissues.

“When we compared the postmortem ADNP syndrome brain tissues to tissue from the brain of a young person without ADNP syndrome, we found deposits of the tau protein in the ADNP child, a pathology that characterizes Alzheimer’s disease,” Prof. Gozes explained in a Tel Aviv University statement.

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Israeli Researchers Set To Begin Human Trials of COVID-19 Vaccine

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Israeli Researchers Set To Begin Human Trials of COVID-19 Vaccine

Israeli researchers from the government-run Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) expect to begin human trials for the COVID-19 vaccine candidate they developed after the high holidays this fall.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with IIBR Director-General Professor Shmuel C. Shapira on Thursday, as well as with heads of the IIBR research team and “congratulated them on the progress in developing a vaccine against the coronavirus, ahead of the stage of human trials, which will start after the fall holidays,” the Government Press Office said in a statement.

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“I am pleased to hear about the progress and I want to congratulate you on it. Continue on this path with the maximum speed that you deem scientifically sufficient,” Netanyahu said, according to the announcement.

Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz visited the Ness Ziona-based research institute on Thursday, the Jerusalem Post reported.

“Experiments on humans should begin after the Tishrei holidays,” Gantz was quoted as saying in reference to the first month of the Hebrew calendar when the high holidays begin. “The human trials will be conducted in collaboration with the Health Ministry…and according to all the processes required in terms of medical safety,” Gantz added.

Professor Shapira said the institute developed “an excellent vaccine” over the past six months. During the call with Netanyahu, he held up a vial and said: “This is the first vial of the vaccine.”

Netanyahu instructed that evaluations begin on the establishment of vaccine production in Israel “so that Israel will have safe and effective vaccines for all residents of Israel by the end of the first quarter of 2021.”

He also instructed that an outline be drawn up to allow other countries to purchase vaccine options from Israel. “The financing thus obtained will be able to assist in the establishment of production capabilities and processes,” he said, according to the announcement.

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Israeli-Made Masks Offer Best in Protection Against Coronavirus

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Israeli-Made Masks Offer Best in Protection Against Coronavirus

This article was first published by The Times of Israel and is re-posted with permission.

An Israeli scientist has invented a mask that “seals” the face and, according to testing, blocks 99.25 percent of coronavirus-sized particles, he said.

Noam Gavriely helped the Israel Defense Forces develop gas masks during the Iraq War, and admits that his new product, ViriMASK, resembles some wartime protection devices and doesn’t look attractive. But he said that in terms of protection, it offers a significant improvement over the N95 masks, which are meant to filter at least 95 percent of airborne particles, and are widely seen as the best currently available option.

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Gavriely, ViriMASK CEO, told The Times of Israel: “Unlike other products, this is sealed all around the face, like gas masks and diving masks. And the filter is much more dense than the N95 mask and surgical masks, meaning that fewer particles penetrate.

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Israeli Researchers Make Hand Sanitizer Out Of Waste

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Israeli Researchers Make Hand Sanitizer Out Of Waste

As the global coronavirus health crisis continues to grip the world, the World Health Organization has recommended that individuals regularly and thoroughly clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, as part of their hand hygiene.

The ongoing pandemic has led to a surge in demand for alcohol (ethanol) based disinfectants, such as alcogel and septol, in the form of hand sanitizer.

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Israel, for its part, has no local ethanol production and is completely dependent on the annual import of tens of thousands tons of ethanol. As the crisis continues, concerns have emerged of shortages of hand sanitizer in Israel as a result of quarantine conditions in other states, global demand, and import limitations.

TAU team

For the first time, a groundbreaking development from Tel Aviv University researchers enables the local production of ethanol in Israel, from plant and paper waste, in a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly way.

The process, which uses a novel lignin degradation method could significantly cut back on production costs and lead to a decrease in the use of edible plant sources, help protect the environment, reduce the use of various pollutants, and greenhouse gas emissions, due to environmental-friendly waste processing, Tel Aviv University (TAU) said in a statement.

Lignin is a complex macromolecule important for the formation of cell walls of plants. It exists in all types of agricultural waste.

Professor Hadas Mamane, head of Tel Aviv University’s environmental engineering program, calls the process a “game-changer” in the way that ethanol would be manufactured in Israel and remote countries where the production of ethanol is difficult.

This method was developed as part of the joint research of Prof. Mamane from the TAU School of Mechanical Engineering, Prof. Yoram Gerchman from the Oranim Academic College – Haifa University, and TAU PhD students Roi Perez, Yan Rosen and Barak Halpern.

The team at TAU has been working on the process of recycling waste and converting it into ethanol for the past five years, Prof. Mamane tells NoCamels, but the development of local ethanol production has become more significant with the prevalence of COVID-19.

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Mayo Clinic to Implement Artificial Intelligence Prediction System

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Mayo Clinic to Implement Artificial Intelligence Prediction System

The Mayo Clinic is set to implement an AI-powered patient triage and prediction platform developed by Israeli company Diagnostic Robotics at the American academic medical organization’s headquarters in Rochester, Minnesota to help reduce physician burden and optimize emergency room visits. The Mayo Clinic also has main campuses in Phoenix, Arizona, and Jacksonville, Florida.

The new collaboration, first publicized two weeks ago, will allow the Mayo Clinic’s emergency medicine department to make better informed, quicker decisions on patient care while reducing strain on medical teams.

Gush Dan Neighborhoods: Average COVID-19 associated symptoms region map. City municipal regions with at least 30 responders and neighborhoods with at least 10 responders are shown. Each region is colored by a category defined by the average symptoms ratio, calculated by averaging the reported symptoms rate by responders in that city or neighborhood. Green – low symptoms rate, red – high symptoms rate. Image: Weizmann Institute

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Diagnostic Robotics was founded in 2017 by Jonathan Amir, who serves as CEO, AI expert Dr. Kira Radinsky, the former director of data science and Israel chief scientist for eBay, who serves as chairman and CTO, and Professor Moshe Shoham, a founder of Israeli company Mazor Robotics acquired by medical technology firm Medtronic in 2018. The trio set out to develop a human–machine hybrid AI diagnostic system that could help alleviate strained health budgets and workforces by helping physicians, healthcare providers and insurers with patient navigation while providing improved risk-prediction capabilities for clinical decision-making.

The system uses artificial intelligence, trained on data from millions of Electronic Health Records, some 27 million patient visits, and billions of data points from the US and Israel, as well as a simple questionnaire to perform clinical intake of patients in emergency rooms, urgent care clinics, and even patients from home. The medical teams can review the self-reported condition, suggest differential diagnoses, and issue a hospitalization risk score for the patient to supplement the physician decision-making process in real-time, Diagnostic Robotics described in the announcement.

The company raised $24 million in Series A funding in November.

The triage service itself is a personalized system guiding the patients through their journey in the medical ecosystem, analyzing their medical history and current medical case using NLP technologies, with generic ability to integrate with multiple sensory output data, Dr. Radinsky and Amir previously explained to NoCamels in April.

“Our mission at Diagnostic Robotics is to improve patients’ experience and support healthcare providers by creating seamless, data-driven interactions that reduce administrative burdens and curb the costs of care,” said Amir in a company statement dated June 18.

“We are excited to collaborate with Mayo Clinic and implement our triage platform, this collaboration reflects the synergy between our technological vision and Mayo Clinic’s cutting-edge medical expertise,” he added.

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Israel Researcher’s COVID-19 Vaccine Proven Effective in Animals

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Israel Researcher’s COVID-19  Vaccine Proven Effective in Animals

Israeli researchers from the government-run Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) indicated over the weekend that a vaccine they developed for SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has been found to be effective in trials involving hamsters, paving the way for testing with humans.

The IIBR, a governmental research center specializing in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences that falls under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office, was first tapped by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped in early February to begin development on producing a vaccine.

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Colorized scanning electron micrograph of an apoptotic cell (green) heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

In early April, the center reported “significant progress” on the vaccine and initial trials on rodents. The secretive institute, based in Ness Ziona, has also been working on researching potential treatments and in early May announced that it made a breakthrough on a treatment involving a discovered antibody that neutralizes the virus. That same month, it further announced that researchers found that a combination of two existing antiviral drugs for Gaucher disease appears to inhibit the growth of SARS CoV-2, and may work against other viral infections, including a common flu strain.

According to the researchers’ most recent findings on a vaccine, a single dose was able to “protect hamsters against SARS-CoV-2” and showed “rapid and potent induction of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.”

The study, published in bioRxiv on Friday, has not yet been peer-reviewed.

The scientists say they designed a vaccine candidate using vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV), an animal virus that does not cause disease in humans, and in which the spike protein was replaced with that of SARS-CoV-2. VSV is also the basis for a separate, effective vaccine against the Ebola virus.

Hamsters that were infected with SARS CoV-2 and were unvaccinated displayed rapid deterioration, significant weight loss and extensive lung damage following the monitoring process in which the disease took hold, while those immunized did not show significant signs of morbidity and gained body weight, the study showed. The vaccinated hamsters also developed antibodies.

“The vaccination provided protection against SARS-CoV-2 inoculation, as manifested in the rapid return to normal physiological parameters lung protection and rapid viral clearance. These results pave the way for further examination of rVSV-ΔGspike in clinical trials as a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2,” the researchers wrote.

A number of Israeli scientific teams and over 100 groups and organizations worldwide are currently working to develop a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19. Thirteen are in clinical evaluation including a vaccine candidate developed by the University of Oxford which recently signed a distribution agreement with drugmaker AstraZeneca.

Massachusetts-based company Moderna was the first to develop an experimental vaccine for COVID-19 that went into trial quickly, and the company is rapidly making progress. Last week, Netanyahu announced that Israel signed an agreement with Moderna that will allow it to purchase vaccine doses should they become available as soon as next year.

In late April, Israeli scientists at the Migal Galilee Research Institute formed a new company, MigVax, to further adapt a vaccine they developed for a deadly coronavirus affecting poultry for human use. The scientists had been working for four years to develop a vaccine for IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus) which affects the respiratory tract, gut, kidney and reproductive systems of domestic fowl.

MigVax raised $12 million in an investment round led by OurCrowd for further development of the vaccine and said it hopes to begin clinical trials this summer.

Israeli officials have been concerned with rising morbidity in the country which dipped in May allowing restrictions to be lifted, and has increased to close to 5,000 active infections and between 150-200 new infections per day. Netanyahu warned in a cabinet meeting on Sunday of a renewed shutdown if rules regarding mask-wearing and physical distancing are not adhered to.

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Israeli Lab Says Antiviral Drug May Work Against Coronavirus

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Israeli Lab Says Antiviral Drug May Work Against Coronavirus

Israeli scientists at the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) have found that a combination of two existing antiviral drugs for Gaucher disease appears to inhibit the growth of SARS CoV-2, the virus that leads to COVID-19 and may work against other viral infections, including a common flu strain.

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The IIBR is a governmental research center specializing in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences that falls under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office. During the pandemic, announcements have been issued by the Defense Ministry.

According to a press announcement on Tuesday, scientists at the secretive bio-defense lab-tested an analog of the FDA-approved drug Cerdelga, and an analog of a second drug, Venglustat, currently in advanced trials. They found that, in combination, the drugs led to a significant reduction in the replication capacity of the coronavirus and to the destruction of the infected cells.

The two drugs are used to treat Gaucher disease, an inherited genetic condition most common in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent that leads to the buildup of fatty substances in certain organs, particularly the spleen and liver, and can affect their function. The disease can also lead to skeletal abnormalities and blood disorders, In rare cases, Gaucher disease can also lead to brain inflammation, according to the Mayo Clinic. The disease is unrelated to COVID-19.

The Israeli researchers tested the drugs on mouse models using four different RNA viruses: Neuroinvasive Sindbis virus (SVNI), an infection transmitted via mosquitos that can lead to years of debilitating musculoskeletal symptoms; West Nile virus (WNV), also a mosquito-borne disease that can cause neurological disease and is potentially fatal; Influenza A virus, a strain of the flu; and SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers found that the two drugs were effective in all four cases. They work by inhibiting glucosylceramide synthase *GCS), an enzyme involved in the production of glucocerebroside, a lipid that accumulates in the tissues of patients affected with Gaucher disease. In the lab setting, they inhibited the replication of the viruses, and in the case of mice infected with SVNI, increased their survival rate.

In the case of COVID-19, the drugs “have an antiviral effect on the SARS-CoV-2 clinical isolate in vitro, with a single dose able to significantly inhibit viral replication within 24–48 h.”

The two drugs are currently being tested for their effectiveness in treating animals infected with the coronavirus.

The study, published in bioRxiv, has not yet been peer-reviewed. The authors are all from the IIBR’s Department of Infectious Diseases

The data suggests that “GCS inhibitors can potentially serve as a broad-spectrum antiviral therapy and should be further examined in preclinical and clinical trial,” the scientists wrote, adding that repurposing approved drugs can lead “to significantly reduced timelines and required investment in making treatment available.

“Treatment of a new disease such as COVID-19 using an existing, approved drug may serve as an effective short-term solution considering that one of the major challenges in addressing such a pandemic is the length of time it takes for both the research and approval phases of new drugs,” the Defense Ministry wrote in the announcement.

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Israel’s Tech-Driven COVID-19 Solutions

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Israel’s Tech-Driven COVID-19 Solutions

For some months now, countries across the world have been vying for much-needed, key supplies for healthcare professionals and essential workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. The shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has been especially acute, forcing governments into a global race to buy protective clothing, surgical masks, face shields, helmets, goggles, and gloves – with middling success. Despite these efforts, doctors and nurses in the US and the UK, for example, have been forced to acquire their own gear or reuse existing equipment with great risk.

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With no immediate solutions even as the global health crisis rages on, innovative alternative initiatives have popped up to help medical workers do their critical jobs: save lives while being safe.

One such initiative was recently launched by the Israeli-founded non-profit organization Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), a global movement that develops and creates practical, affordable, workable solutions for under-served sectors and communities. Tikkun Olam loosely translates to “repair the world” in Hebrew.

As the pandemic began spreading rapidly across the world beginning in early March, the group tapped into its vast network of worldwide makers, fellows, and volunteers to develop and deliver solutions useful in fighting the global pandemic: 3D-printed face shields, masks, straps, handless door openers and even DIY alcohol-based hand rubs. By late April, TOM had overseen the manufacturing and delivery of over 30,000 units of equipment for people who need it most, with a goal to reach 100,000 in the short term and half a million in the medium term.

Donate Now to Essential Workers from TOM Global on Vimeo.

The organization was well set up for such an operation. Established in 2014 by the Reut Group led by entrepreneur Gidi Grinstein, TOM brings together designers, developers, engineers, and “makers” to solve everyday challenges for people living with disabilities, the elderly, and the poor (“need-knowers”). The organization has hosted dozens of “makeathons” across the world focused on creating products that aim to improve people’s daily lives and enhance their interests. Close to 500 such products have been made in 67 communities in over 20 countries so far including Mexico, Chile, Greece, Serbia, and Australia.

When TOM began focusing solely on COVID-19 solutions, it felt like a natural pivot.

“Our mission has not changed. We systematically create highly affordable solutions for people who are largely neglected by the markets and governments and are structurally marginalized,” Grinstein tells NoCamels via video-conference from New York

Throughout its journey, TOM “developed a process for mass inventions where people can come and innovate and create solutions so this vision remained but the operational manner has changed,” he explains.

To start, the organization began taking stock of all the products created over the years to see what could be relevant during the pandemic. Next, TOM repurposed its network into a “maker army,” calling on all those who could design, engineer, invent or even just access or operate a 3D printer to join the movement and help deliver solutions. The next focus was on partnerships with universities, student communities, maker spaces, Jewish and non-Jewish organizations that could aid with volunteers, materials, and logistics.

To date, TOM’s online library includes over 40 solutions ranging from PPEs, ventilators and ventilator parts, respirators and hygienic solutions, with detailed instructions on how to make them, and a playbook for people to launch their emergency coronavirus response teams.

The most sought-after items have by far been the face shields, specifically the Prusa shields, which are quick to print and easy to assemble, says Maayan Keren, TOM’s Director of North America Communities.

Based in New York, which has been hard-hit by COVID-19 and leads US cities with over 300,000 confirmed infections, Keren tells NoCamels her work has involved finding resources such as 3D printers, cutters, and sewing machines, helping makers get started, and identifying “circles of needs.”

For example, in NY, TOM recently put together a delivery of some 500 face shields that went to nursing homes and fertility clinics. “These are very high-risk people who need immediate help and protection,” says Keren. Other circles of needs include mental health facilities, care homes, and prisons.

In Atlanta, a university student organizer with a 3D printer at home started his own response team to make face shields for clinics, nursing homes, police officers and first responders, with help and some seed funding from TOM.

The needs, however, differ and evolve depending on location.

In Mexico, TOM makers and response teams led the manufacturing of some 3,000 Y splitters for ventilators designed to divide the airflow of artificial ventilators so that they can be shared by two patients, Keren tells NoCamels. In fact, the design was created specifically for the MakersMexico through a request process where providers and makers submit needs and TOM works to find a solution.

In Israel, TOM works with the Holon Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and design schools such as Shenkar and the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem – all of whom have 3D printing capabilities.

Bezalel student Yuval Buzaglo, 26, tells NoCamels she is part a team of university students that created thousands of pieces of equipment for hospitals, clinics, and special education schools using TOM’s instruction files and materials.

“There’s been a lot of sharing knowledge and efficiency,” she says.

Grinstein tells NoCamels most of TOM’s development and documentation is, in fact, done in Israel at Impact Labs, a hardware innovation center in Tel Aviv where TOM is based. The Lab is for entrepreneurs, companies, and social innovators to develop physical products and solutions.

TOM is funded philanthropically, employs 11 people, and works with hundreds of volunteers across the world, Grinstein explains. The organization helps local teams raise money for their COVID-19 relief efforts and source donations of 3D printing materials.

TOM makers are “community organizers, people working in the medical field, academics, university faculty, moms, dads, and basically anyone who wants to get involved,” Keren tells NoCamels, adding that “people have really stepped up to help.”

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