Posts Tagged “Covid-19”
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The study, published in bioRxiv on Friday, has not yet been peer-reviewed.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.
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.
Haifa’s Rambam Hospital is set to trial speech-based analysis technology by Israeli company Cordio Medical to remotely monitor and diagnose the status of COVID-19 patients based on samples obtained via a smartphone app.
The Or Yehuda-based Cordio Medical developed the HearO technology to monitor patients suffering from heart failure and the platform could prove useful for the sophisticated management of COVID-19 patients who have received a diagnosis and are in isolation but have yet to be hospitalized, the hospital said.
HearO analyzes recordings of a patient’s speech and can sense fluid accumulation and forewarn of an anticipated deterioration, the company says, adding that the tech has already been proven in clinical trials at 10 medical institutions in Israel including Rambam, the Beilinson-Rabin Medical Center, and Barzilai Hospital. The system provided a pre-deterioration notice on an average of ten days prior to an acute heart failure hospitalization with an accuracy rate of over 80 percent, Cordio says. The HearO system is in the process of seeking FDA approval as a means to monitor heart-failure patients.
Cordio’s solution for COVID-19 patients is based on adapting HearO to the deterioration process associated with the disease characterized by bilateral pneumonia with edema in the lungs. The system would pick up on a deterioration based on slight changes in lung fluids and the onset of inflammation before the patient can feel it, Cordio explained.
The system will also be used for remotely monitoring patients who have recovered and are at home.
The trial will monitor “5,000 patients ongoing in all stages: isolated (no symptoms), mild, moderate and severe conditions,” for 18 months, Cordio Medical CEO Tamir Tal tells NoCamels via email.
Cordio is concentrating on the lung disease-related symptoms that are not easily trackable. Currently, all other symptoms are easily discovered — for example cough and fever, Tal tells NoCamels
The system works by establishing a baseline for each patient after which they will record their voices daily “and we analyze it in our cloud-based system. Each day the system is not alerting, the baseline is adapting and adjusting utilizing the new info,” he says.
Tal explains that if successful, the HearO system will be able to alert the medical team about the start of a lung condition 10-48 hours before the patient’s condition becomes moderate or severe due to the infection.
As of April 1, Israel has over 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including over 200 recoveries and 25 deaths. Most of those diagnosed with the disease are in isolation at home or in hotels with a minority in hospital.