By Stephen Bryen

In a nutshell, after 4 years of research funded by Israel’s Ministry of Science & Technology, a research institute in Israel’s northern periphery city of Kiryat Shmona has developed an effective vaccine against avian coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), which is being adapted to create a human vaccine against COVID-19, coronavirus.  Israel is in a unique and powerful position to provide urgent help to China, Italy, Japan, Korea and even Iran which have been hit hard by the global pandemic.

The Trump administration should lend its full support and Vice President Mike Pence who has the lead portfolio for the U.S. government response to the coronavirus threat should help assure the Israeli vaccine is rapidly approved and fast-tracked.

This is an especially big deal for two reasons: the first is that the Israeli Institute worked for four years and has a massive head start on the various global efforts to come up with a vaccine against the human coronavirus

Secondly, because Israel’s researchers can do this in a very short time: within 90 days the vaccine will be available.  Given the spread of the virus to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, the need is huge and urgent.

The breakthrough is an achievement of the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute.  It is a regional R&D center of the Israeli Science and Technology Ministry which also funds about half its budget. According to MIGAL, the Institute supports about 90 PhD scientists and employs another 190 researchers across 44 research groups.  

The MIGAL R&D Team

David Zigdon, CEO of MIGAL, said, “Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development. Our goal is to produce the vaccine during the next 8-10 weeks, and to achieve safety approval in 90 days. This will be an oral vaccine, making it particularly accessible to the general public. We are currently in intensive discussions with potential partners that can help accelerate the in-human trials phase and expedite the completion final product development and regulatory activities.”  

Dr. Chen Katz, MIGAL’s Biotechnology Group Leader, commented, “The scientific framework for the vaccine is based on a new protein expression vector, which forms and secretes a chimeric soluble protein that delivers the viral antigen into mucosal tissues by self-activated endocytosis (a cellular process in which substances are brought into a cell by surrounding the material with cell membrane, forming a vesicle containing the ingested material), causing the body to form antibodies against the virus. In pre-clinical (IN-VIVO) trials, MIGAL’s researchers have demonstrated that the oral vaccination induces high levels of specific anti-IBV antibodies.”  

The research work is a by-product of MIGAL’s development of a vaccine against IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus), a disease affecting poultry, whose effectiveness has been proven in pre-clinical trials carried out at the Volcani Institute. MIGAL has now made required genetic adjustments to adapt the vaccine to COVID-19, the human strain of coronavirus, and is working to achieve the safety approvals that will enable in-vivo testing, initiating production of a vaccine to counter the Coronavirus epidemic currently spreading throughout the world, which so far has claimed 2,666 lives.

Kiryat Shmona is Israel’s most northern town with a little over 22,000 inhabitants.  It is adjacent to the border with Lebanon and it has been subjected in the past to terrorist attacks and Hezbollah’s rockets.

What Should Happen Next

MIGAL needs an industrial partner now to get ready to rapidly produce the vaccine.  Preferably this would be a major pharmaceutical company ready to move out immediately and fund the manufacturing.  Financial backing could come from the manufacturer or from governments. 

The Trump administration should commit immediately to this opportunity as part of Vice President Mike Pence’s new portfolio to lead the effort to block the coronavirus.