Israel leads fight against coronavirus; 2 vaccines could be ready in mere months

Two companies are working on vaccines that could be rolled out within the next few months.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israelis are leading the way in the race to contain and stop the coronavirus pandemic.

Two Israeli companies that have developed treatments for other diseases are working hard on adapting them to combat the coronavirus, with the hope that they can be ready for use in a matter of months.

The first, Galilee-based MIGAL, has been working for the last four years on a unique way for the immune system to form antibodies against a virus. In a move that biotechnology group leader Dr. Chen Katz called “pure luck,” the first target to test their new technology was a coronavirus that kills poultry, and it has already been proven successful in pre-clinical trials.

The kind of coronavirus now hitting hundreds of thousands of people around the world is genetically very similar, and uses the same infection mechanism.

“All we need to do is adjust the system to the new sequence,” Katz told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “We are in the middle of this process, and hopefully in a few weeks we will have the vaccine in our hands. Yes, in a few weeks, if it all works, we would have a vaccine to prevent coronavirus.”

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis has instructed the fast-tracking of all approval processes for the vaccine, which would speed it into clinical trials that could be completed in 90 days. If proven safe for humans, the oral vaccine would then be rushed for regulatory approval and then into mass production.

The second company, Rehovot-based Kamada, has a unique blood plasma purification system that can be used to extract antibodies from the blood of those who have recovered from the virus.  Antibodies are what the body develops to fight off an illness, and they can be injected into people who have a serious case of the disease to give them a “jump start” on combating it.

This kind of treatment is known as a “passive vaccine.”

The question is if patients who have survived the current virus have enough antibodies in their plasma to develop the vaccine, CEO Amir London told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. Kamada has already begun collecting blood from hospitals where COVID-19 victims have recovered.

Assuming that enough antibodies will be found, London said that “the concept and the technology have been already approved for other viruses… it is a matter of a few months to have the product ready for compassionate treatment.”

Compassionate treatment is the term used for patients who are so ill that health authorities allow them to receive medications that have not yet undergone all the clinical trials that are usually mandatory before being approved for public use.

Meanwhile, China announced on Tuesday that it is launching clinical trials for a vaccine that was developed by the country’s foremost bio-warfare expert. U.S. officials began human trial testing on Monday of a potential vaccine as well. Forty-five men and women between the ages of 18 and 55 will be part of the Phase 1 trial.