Archive For The “Israeli Medicine” Category
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.
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The study, published in bioRxiv on Friday, has not yet been peer-reviewed.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.
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.
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.”
Israeli scientists have developed a “sniff test” that they say can predict the likelihood that an unconscious brain-injured person will regain consciousness in the future.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Weizmann Institute at the Loewenstein Hospital Rehabilitation Center in Ra’anana, observed how patients who were defined as unconscious and unresponsive reacted to smells with a change in their nasal airflow pattern, Weizmann Institute said in a statement last month.
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The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature in late April.
According to the study, 100 percent of the unconscious brain-injured patients who responded to the “sniff test” later regained consciousness during the four-year study period.
The scientists believe that this simple, inexpensive test can aid doctors in accurately diagnosing and determining treatment plans according to the patients’ degree of brain injury.
Dr. Anat Arzi, who began the research during her doctoral studies in the group of Prof. Noam Sobel of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Neurobiology Department, and continued it as part of her postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, explained why it is important to determine the patient’s degree of consciousness.
Dr. Anat Arzi led the sniff test research. Courtesy.
One of the challenges in patients with severe brain injury is that “it’s really difficult to tell sometimes whether the person is conscious or unconscious,” she tells NoCamels.
So how do you know if someone is consciously aware following a severe brain injury? This is the task, Dr. Arzi says. The gold standard diagnostic tool to assess patients with a disorder of consciousness is the Coma Recovery Scale (Revised) she explains. This is a battery of tests that are conducted in order to see if the patient has any type of behavioral response to stimuli. Responses include eye movements, turning the head towards a sound, or tone of voice, or a response to pain.
Dr. Arzi describes the differences in levels of consciousness: the patient could be in a vegetative state — unresponsive and unaware of themselves and the external environment — or minimally conscious, meaning they have partial preservation of conscious awareness.
“Because it’s so challenging, the misdiagnosis rates could be relatively high,” she tells NoCamels, noting that current diagnostic tests can lead to incorrect diagnosis in as much as 40 percent of cases.
“Misdiagnosis can be critical as it can influence the decision of whether to disconnect patients from life support machines,” said Dr. Arzi sin a Weizmann Institute statement.
With regard to treatment, “if it is judged that a patient is unconscious and doesn’t feel anything, physicians may not prescribe them painkillers that they might need,” she explains.
How does the sniff test work?
Dr. Arzi says there are ways to can scan the brain activity of the patient through an MRI or an EEG (Electroencephalogram) that can uncover cases where the person appears unconscious but is actually conscious.
The problem is that “these procedures are relatively expensive, and many times require that the patient would have to move to another location, which could be complicated or risky for some patients,” she notes.
The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) said on Tuesday that it completed a “groundbreaking scientific development” toward a potential treatment for COVID-19 based on an antibody that neutralizes SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus that causes the disease.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense speaking on behalf of the institute emphasized that this achievement could potentially develop into a treatment for COVID-19 patients but that the development was not a vaccine.
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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. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped the secretive institute in early February to begin development on producing a vaccine. In early April, the center reported “significant progress” and trials on animals.
The institute has also been involved in plasma collection from Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19 to research antibodies, proteins made by the immune system that can attack the virus.
“This is an important milestone, which will be followed by a series of complex tests and a process of regulatory approvals,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the process could take several months given “the nature of this breakthrough.”
The development has three key parameters, according to the IIBR: first, the antibody is monoclonal (lab-made identical immune cells that are all clones of a unique parent cell), and contains a low proportion of harmful proteins; second, the institute has “demonstrated the ability of the antibody to neutralize the coronavirus”; and third, the antibody was specifically tested on SARS CoV2.
“Based on comprehensive scientific publications from around the globe, it appears that the IIBR is the first institution to achieve a scientific breakthrough that meets all three of the aforementioned parameters simultaneously,” the ministry said on Tuesday.
The Ness Ziona-based institute is now pursuing a patent for its development, according to the announcement, after which it will approach international manufacturers.
Meanwhile, a study in the Netherlands published this week in Nature Communications also claimed that a human monoclonal antibody neutralized SARS-CoV-2, and SARS-CoV, in a lab setting.
“Monoclonal antibodies targeting vulnerable sites on viral surface proteins are increasingly recognized as a promising class of drugs against infectious diseases and have shown therapeutic efficacy for a number of viruses,” the scientists of this study wrote.
The antibody known as 47D11, targeted the spike protein that gives the coronavirus its name and shape, and “exhibited cross-neutralizing activity of SARS-S and SARS2-S,” according to the researchers.
These neutralizing antibodies “can alter the course of infection in the infected host supporting virus clearance or protect an uninfected host that is exposed to the virus,” and the 47D11 antibody can either alone or in combination with pharmaceuticals and therapies, offer potential prevention and/or treatment of COVID-19, according to the study.
Israeli researchers said on Sunday that they developed a testing method for COVID-19 that they say is up to 10 times faster and more cost-effective than the methods currently used to analyze samples.
Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) said the test relies on an existing, well-known process to extract genetic material (RNA and DNA) using magnetic beads, common in genomic labs, but uses a special buffer solution to accelerate and ameliorate binding. The method was developed by Professor Nir Friedman at Hebrew University’s Institute of Life Sciences and School of Engineering and Computer Science and Professor Naomi Habib at HU’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Science.
Since COVID-19 testing requires RNA material, Professor Habib tells NoCamels that the test uses an existing product based on magnetic beads, which come with a prepared buffer solution. Then, an in-house mixture concocted by the Israeli scientific team is added to prepare the beads to extract the RNA molecules.
The method also helps to mitigate the country’s test shortage due to a deficit of chemical reagents. Magnetic beads are the only item in the protocol that needs to be imported from overseas, but they can be recycled and used again.
“So we don’t need to actually change anything along the pipeline, just in the lab itself, we developed a ‘plug-in’ solution, so instead of doing the RNA extraction using commercial kits, which are really hard to obtain these days because there’s a shortage worldwide, they could use our solution with the magnetic beads. We’ve already adapted it to fit [with the testing process]; we’ve optimized the buffers, the different liquids, the volumes, and there’s a robotic application that works with 96 samples [at a time],” Professor Habib tells NoCamels.
“Usually, in laboratory conditions, we work with very clean samples, but here we have samples gathered in the field, in clinical settings, so we really had to make this process work with the way samples are being gathered today in Israel and other places in the world,” she says
The method yields a result within 20-30 minutes, whereas regular testing takes 2-4 hours, she tells NoCamels.
The protocol has been published online “for anyone to use,” she explains. The idea was to take something that they “knew could potentially work, making it less expensive by making it lab-made, and making it work specifically for RNA samples collected via swab test.”
The method was validated at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem where it is now “fully operational,” the scientists say.
“Our COVID-19 test significantly reduces labs’ dependence on external factors,” Prof. Friedman said in a university statement. “To date, we’ve tested hundreds of clinical samples from Hadassah Hospital and our results were identical to those found by the kits currently being used.”
The next step is to scale up, Professor Habib tells NoCamels. “This method can be adopted widely because it will work with any swab sample around the world,” she says. It may also allow for an increased rate of simultaneous tests, tens of thousands of samples instead of the current rate of thousands, to be analyzed.
She indicates that the team has already fielded calls and requests from abroad.
Habib and Friedman teamed up with 15 researchers and lab students from the university to develop their method.
“It’s very moving to see a large group of researchers so dedicated to finding a solution to our current crisis, one that will get Israel—and hopefully the rest of the world—back to normal,” Habib said in the university statement.
Carice Witte is the founder and executive director of SIGNAL, a Sino-Israel think tank focused on researching Chinese foreign policy and China-Israel relations, as well as advising policymakers in Israel and abroad on strategy.
In the midst of this coronavirus pandemic, testing is central to bringing the virus under control to save lives and end the economic devastation. It may thus seem peculiar to hear that Clalit’s CEO, Johanan Locker, recently rejected the Israeli government’s $25 million deal with China’s state-owned conglomerate, BGI, to supply equipment for 10,000 tests a day. His decision is reminiscent of actions by Israel’s Commissioner of Capital Markets Dorit Salinger, who blocked numerous Chinese state-owned enterprises from purchasing Israel’s leading insurance companies Phoenix and Clal in 2016 and 2017 for similar reasons. Mr. Locker’s reasoning: protecting the data of his company’s 4.9 million patients.
Against the backdrop of increasing tensions between China and the US, the issue of data protection has taken center stage. The US has been warning governments around the world against implementing Huawei 5G because of potential back doors that provide access to sensitive information. Most US allies share these concerns and are not even considering implementing the full range of Huawei 5G equipment – despite it being the only company worldwide currently able to offer this end-to-end solution. Instead, they are conducting exhaustive review processes to decide if they will implement even the peripheral networks produced by Huawei. In most cases, the core networks are already off-limits.
In February this year, Angela Merkel’s CDU party backed a strategy paper that seems to have eliminated the distinction between core and peripheral, deeming all aspects of a network subject to breach. The German strategy paper focuses on the issue of trust. It essentially bars 5G rollout by ‘untrustworthy’ companies. Trust, in this case, is defined by whether the company is subject to state influence. To address the 5G issue more robustly, the paper recommends that Germany not put undue reliance on a single supplier; it should support the “building of an internationally competitive safe 5G network.”
Mr. Locker’s concerns reflect a broader awareness that China’s government is actively seeking to acquire people’s data through their business ventures. The CCP’s efforts to access sensitive information and personal data is no secret. Its recently passed cybersecurity law requires “network operators to store select data within China and allows Chinese authorities to conduct spot-checks on a company’s network operations.” Many have voiced concerns over these data controls and the increased risks of intellectual property theft.
America has been particularly worried about these developments. In 2019, the US government turned a lot of heads when it revoked the acquisition of dating site Grindr by Chinese firm Kunlun, after the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) assessed that access to the personal data of the users constituted a potential national security risk. Cybertheft of personal data was the focus of the February 2020 decision by the US Justice Department to charge four members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with the 2017 Equifax breach that resulted in the theft of personal data of about 145 million Americans.
While corporate cyber theft is a serious problem, as seen in the case of the British firm Cambridge Analytica –which gained access to data of tens of millions of Facebook users – government access to private information is an entirely different story.
Of course, China is not the only country seeking to acquire private data. It is well known that governments have methods of gaining access to personal information, as exemplified by the Edward Snowden leaks. A 2014 investigation into whether the United States’ National Security Agency eavesdropped on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls, serves as another compelling example.
Russia has long been suspected of repeatedly hacking American databases – with accusations ranging from interfering in the 2016 US elections to complaints by Bernie Sanders this year of Moscow helping his campaign.
And yet despite these truths, it seems that China is being singled out for privacy concerns when its state-owned enterprises seek to provide valuable goods and services.
Just as Huawei has the only end-to-end solution for 5G, BGI is one of the very few companies worldwide able to provide the necessary quantity and quality of testing for COVID-19. This is emblematic of the success of China’s long-time investment in research and development. Over the past decade, China has directed significant resources toward cultivating the skill and talent necessary to take the lead in advanced technologies. China’s 2001 and 2006 five-year plans emphasized the development of National Champions. These companies receive easier access to financing, preference in government contract bidding, and special status in protected industries. In return, they help advance China’s strategic aims.
As a China-based state-owned enterprise (SOE), BGI would certainly fail Germany’s “trust” test as defined by its new strategy paper; because under Chinese law, SOEs are fully subject to party/government scrutiny. All data stored on the BGI’s servers would thus be available to China’s leadership upon request.
The same system that produced these comprehensive solutions remains opaque and authoritarian – characteristics that do not inspire trust with friends in the international community, particularly in the West. It’s often said that trust is built over time, but China has virtually burst onto the international stage over the last few years of Xi Jinping’s presidency. The world is not used to China taking a leading role in global affairs. While many may criticize the US for its international relations practices and geopolitics, US actions do not generate many surprises. For the good and the bad, the international community mostly knows what to expect from American leadership.
China is an unknown quantity with a system and style of leadership very unfamiliar to the West. It has no track record of global leadership. There are those who question the degree to which China’s domestic policies are indicative of how a China-led system might look. Ultimately, these questions generate the very mistrust that caused Israel’s largest HMO to turn down the opportunity for thousands of tests rather than exposing 4.6 million Israeli medical profiles to China’s government.
If Chemi Peres has one regret, it’s that he didn’t travel enough or live abroad for an extended period of time. The 61-year-old son of the late Israeli president Shimon Peres, a prominent figure in Israel’s tech ecosystem and chairman of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, says travel and knowledge of other cultures and languages “contribute to a better society and a better world.”
While this wanderlust is unrelated to the global coronavirus pandemic currently upending life as we know it here in Israel and across the world, Peres does say that more travel would have afforded him the opportunity to better promote his most important message — the power of collective innovation.
“There is a lot of power in our ability to innovate and in our ability to be entrepreneurs and to change the world for the better. We are transitioning from an old world where greatness and strength and wealth came from the land and from natural resources, to a new era where the source of power, the source of greatness, is coming from brainpower, from the mind,” he explains.
No single country can address the pandemic separately without collaboration from other countries, he says, just like “nobody can deal with climate change by themselves; it’s a new age.”
Peres may not have traveled as much as he would have liked – and there’s no telling when he might be able to in the near future – but he has seen and done a great deal, with a career that spans aerospace, technology, and finance. He co-founded Pitango Venture Capital in 1996, a firm that has invested in some 250 global high-tech companies, including disruptive Israeli-firms such as Via, Taboola, AppsFlyer, Drivenets, and DouxMatok. He sits on the board of directors of a number of those companies. Over the years, Pitango has become one of Israel’s largest VC firms to date, and recently raised $250 million in a second growth fund during a global crisis
“We believe that even during the turbulent times of Coronavirus, keeping a long-term strategy and investing in exceptional teams, will enable [us] to keep building big companies out of Israel,” Pitango announced in a Facebook post last week.
Peres has also served as the chairman of the executive committee of the Peres Center for Peace, first established in 1996 by his father Shimon Peres – the Nobel Prize-winning elder Israeli statesman who advocated for peace with the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors, one of the architects of the country’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and a former prime minister and president. The center rebranded as the Peres Center for Peace And Innovation after the establishment of an innovation wing for Israel, one of Peres’ flagship projects before his passing in 2016 at 93. Shimon Peres was a champion of Israeli technologies and Israeli startups.
Shimon Peres addresses a gathering of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem in 2010. By Michael Thaidigsmann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17614119
Shimon Peres addresses a gathering of the World Jewish Congress in Jerusalem in 2010. Photo by Michael Thaidigsmann – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link
The innovation center officially opened its doors in October 2018 in an inauguration ceremony attended by diplomats and executives from across the world. Last year, the center welcomed more than 75,000 guests from around the world — including government representatives, business leaders, founders, and members of the public — who wanted to learn from the Israeli innovation model.
The visitors’ wing highlights Israeli innovation through the ages, drawing on advanced technologies for highly visual platforms and interactive displays showing life-changing, cutting-edge tech developments. The center also hosts an exhibition of products or services from ground-breaking Israeli firms and runs innovation programs that draw from Israel’s diverse communities.
Leading Israeli tech entrepreneur Amnon Shashua, CEO of Mobileye and senior vice president at Intel Corporation, met with a Knesset special committee on Tuesday to discuss an “exit strategy” that he believes will allow the country to overcome the current coronavirus outbreak, avoid a recession, and resume economic activity within months.
Shashua, a co-founder of the Jerusalem-based firm that builds visual-assistance technologies for autonomous vehicles, and was sold to Intel for $15 billion in 2017, presented the plan to the Knesset Special Committee on Dealing With the Coronavirus. It includes steps to slowly bring some of the population out of self-isolation and reopen businesses.
The plan was first published last week on the online platform Medium in a post called, “Can we Contain COVID-19 without Locking-down the Economy?” The post was co-authored by Shai Shalev-Shwartz, a computer science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and CTO of Mobileye.
“I think that our message that ‘an exit strategy is required’ was well heard and the reaction of the proposed approach was overall positive,” Prof. Shalev-Shwartz tells NoCamels in an email on Wednesday morning. “The initial reaction of the decisionmakers was good. Now is the time to plan the next steps, and I believe that the ‘exit strategy’ should be transparent.”
“Quarantine the high-risk and gradually release the low-risk population to achieve a managed herd immunity of that population,” they wrote in the post. “The managed phase is designed to allow the health system to cope with the expected number of severe cases.”
According to the pair, anyone aged 67 or older, “which represents the retired segment of society,” is considered part of the high-risk group. The low-risk group is “the remainder of society which is released to their daily routine while following certain distancing protocols that are aimed at slowing the spread.”
While the high-risk group would have to be quarantined for a longer period of time — as the low-risk group reaches a herd immunity level — the economy could remain largely undisrupted, they wrote.
It is also when this herd immunity is reached that the high-risk population can “gradually” be released from quarantine.
Prof. Shalev-Shwartz tells NoCamels that implementing the strategy could have the low-risk population getting back to normal “immediately.”
“We estimate that herd immunity will be developed in about a month. Once it will happen, the “high-risk” population can also get back to normal,” he said.
Shashua told Israeli financial daily Calcalist that executing this strategy could have the economy running and a majority of the population out of isolation in as little as three months
“On the other hand, if you say that we are going to have three difficult months, that the country will hand out grants so that the economy doesn’t collapse, but after that, it will all be over, people will be able to accept that,” he said.
According to the post, the issue would then be how to manage the release of the population from quarantine so as not to overwhelm the health system, not when will there be an exit.
The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) has reported “significant progress” toward a vaccine against the novel coronavirus this week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he spoke to IIRB’s Director-General Prof. Shmuel Shapira on Tuesday who updated him on the lab’s research and development efforts regarding a vaccine and antibodies. Professor Shapira “noted that there has been significant progress in planning for the vaccine” and that preparations are now being made to start trials on animals, according to the statement.
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A source familiar with the institute’s activities told Reuters and other media outlets that trials were already underway on rodents, without specifying which type.
Medical researcher. Deposit Photos
SEE ALSO: Virtual Conference To Showcase Best Of Israeli Biotech, Medtech Solutions For COVID-19
Eran Zahavy, the institute’s chief innovation officer said last week that the challenges toward vaccine development were high that the lab has seen “good preliminary results but there is a long way to go.”
Zahavy told an audience in an online webinar hosted by Jerusalem Venture Partners titled “Corona Wake Up Call” that the institute has shifted all its focus toward researching the novel coronavirus and that it is currently working with three companies, including two startups, on different aspects of collaboration “especially in treatment, not just a vaccine.”
Netanyahu tapped the secretive institute in early February to begin development on producing a vaccine. The institute is a governmental research center specializing in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences and falls under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office.
“If we work fast enough, with the appropriate budgeting and the talented people we have, the State of Israel will be ahead of the world,” Netanyahu said at the time.
Israeli developments toward a vaccine
Israel’s Migal Research Institute in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona is also working on a vaccine for COVID-19. In early March, Migal scientists said that they have successfully developed a new vaccine for a deadly virus affecting poultry and are now working to adapt the vaccine for humans.
While working on the avian vaccine for IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus), an avian coronavirus that affects the respiratory tract, gut, kidney and reproductive systems of domestic fowl, the scientists said they identified a possible COVID-19 vaccine candidate as a by-product. They are working to make “required genetic adjustments to adapt the vaccine to COVID-19, the human strain of coronavirus,” and safety approvals that will allow for in-vivo testing and – in the future – the production of a vaccine.
Scientists at the Migal Research Institute lab which is working on developing a coronavirus vaccine. March 2020. Courtesy
Scientists at the Migal Research Institute lab working on developing a coronavirus vaccine. March 2020. Courtesy
Migal said scientific research conducted at the institute has been found that the avian coronavirus has “high genetic similarity to the human COVID-19, and that it uses the same infection mechanism, a fact that increases the likelihood of achieving an effective human vaccine in a very short period of time.”
Dr. Ehud Shahar, head of the immunology group of the coronavirus research team at Migal, told NoCamels last month that the team was actually working on a number of vaccine platforms, one of which was the avian coronavirus, when the novel human coronavirus outbreak began and then spread.
Dr. Shahar explained that the avian vaccine will “translate quite easily to a vaccine for humans because the principle is the same – to trigger the immune system to fight it. But one difference is that in human cases, you can take a virus and kill it [this is called an inactivated vaccine, like for the flu or polio] or weaken it [this is a live-attenuated vaccine, like for MMR or smallpox] and create a vaccine that way. And what we created is a synthetic vaccine made of two proteins.”
“It’s also an oral vaccine which has two advantages. One, there’s no need for a shot. And two, the protection is in the mucosal tissues which affect the respiratory and intestinal systems. And we know that this is how COVID-19 works, by affecting these systems,” he said.
A vaccine would not treat the disease which has so far infected over 900,000 people worldwide and claimed the lives of more than 40,000. But it is a path toward global immunization.
Israel currently has over 5,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, with 21 deaths and 226 recoveries, according to Health Ministry data from April 1.
Meanwhile, Rehovot-based company Kamada, a commercial-stage plasma-derived biopharmaceutical company, announced a few weeks ago that it was developing a “passive vaccine” for the coronavirus as potential treatment for severely ill patients.
The company specializes in the extraction and purification of proteins from human plasma to produce immune globulins. “The plasma-derived Anti-Corona (COVID-19) IgG product is expected to be produced from plasma derived from donors recovered from the virus, which is anticipated to include antibodies to the novel coronavirus,” the company said.
“The current global crisis resulting from the coronavirus outbreak calls for urgent highly-focused efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of potential treatments, especially for life-threatening situations,” said Amir London, CEO of Kamada, in a statement. “Kamada intends to utilize its proven hyper-immune IgG development experience and proprietary technology platform to initiate the development of an Anti-Corona (COVID-19) IgG product. We are working with the Israeli regulatory authorities and local medical institutions to advance our program.”
Global efforts toward a vaccine and treatment
Over two dozen companies and academic institutions worldwide are working to develop a vaccine or a treatment for the coronavirus. China, where the outbreak began in December, quickly shared the genetic material sequence of the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, allowing research groups to begin studies.
US company Moderna was first out the gate, having announced in February that it shipped out an experimental vaccine for testing at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Clinical trials on humans are now starting.
California-based biotech firm Gilead Sciences is currently in a Phase III clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its novel antiviral drug Remdesivir, developed originally for Ebola, in adults diagnosed with COVID-19. These trials build on additional research including two clinical trials in China’s Hubei province led by the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, and a clinical trial in the US-led by NIAID. Results from the studies in China are expected this month, Gilead Sciences said.
Experimental antiviral drugs like Favilavir developed by the Zhejiang Hisun Pharmaceutical Company, and HIV drug Kaletra/Aluvia (lopinavir/ritonavir) by American biopharmaceutical company AbbVie are also being tested as treatment.
This week, US-Israeli clinical-stage pharmaceutical company NeuroRx and Swiss drug development company Relief Therapeutics said that they received authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to begin a mid-stage trial for the use of Aviptadil to treat acute respiratory distress in coronavirus patients. Aviptadil is a patented form of vasoactive intestinal polypeptide that has previously shown promise in treating Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), in which severe inflammation causes the lungs to fill with fluid, the companies said.
Coronavirus death is primarily caused by ARDS.