Three Jews on a mission to develop a coronavirus vaccine

#2 - Vaccine hunters: Tal Zaks, Shmuel Shapira & Alexander Gintsburg

(L-R) Tal Zaks, Shmuel Shapiro & Alexander Gintsburg (photo credit: Courtesy)
(L-R) Tal Zaks, Shmuel Shapiro & Alexander Gintsburg
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe and overturn peoples’ daily lives, world leaders are holding out for the one thing that could potentially get the world back on track - a vaccine. It’s probably not a surprise that in three companies - in Israel, the United States and Russia - Jewish doctors are at the forefront.
The first is Dr. Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer for Moderna, Inc., which is in the midst of a Phase 3 human trial on its mRNA-1273 vaccine to prevent the coronavirus.  Originally from Ra’anana, Zaks moved to the United States in 1996 and first worked on cancer research at the National Institutes of Health. He joined Moderna in 2015.

Zaks told The Jerusalem Post he was “optimistic” about the Moderna vaccine, despite the world never producing a vaccine before against a coronavirus, and there never being a vaccine based on technology like Moderna’s.
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“We are able to reach neutralizing antibodies to levels that are higher than those in people who have been sick,” Zaks said. “These antibodies, in people who have been sick, we believe are what keep us from getting coronavirus a second time. So that is the reason for our optimism.
Moderna’s goal is to produce 300 million vaccine doses by January 2021 so “we can start immunizing ourselves and that will make a dent in this pandemic.”
Moderna allowed governments to prepay for vaccine doses, which helped Moderna secure its manufacturing footprint. Among those countries is the State of Israel, though reports have not divulged any of the parameters of the deal.
View full interview with Tal Zaks >> 
The second scientist is Dr. Alexander Gintsburg, head of Moscow’s state-run Gamaleya Institute. In early September, The Lancet medical journal reported that Russia’s “Sputnik-V” COVID-19 vaccine produced an antibody response in all participants in early-stage trials.
Russia licensed the two-shot jab for domestic use in August, the first country to do so. Currently, a Phase 3, 40,000-strong trial of the vaccine is underway. Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center, which has a branch in Skolkovo near Moscow, is in negotiations to join the trial.
Gamaleya Institute’s vaccine is administered in two doses, with each based on a different vector that normally causes the common cold: human adenoviruses Ad5 and Ad26.
The third scientist is Prof. Shmuel Shapira, head of Israel’s Institute for Biological Research (IIBR). While the Defense Ministry does not publicize regular updates about the vaccine, in August, the Defense Ministry announced that IIBR would begin testing its vaccine on humans by October, after the Jewish holiday season.
The potential Israeli vaccine is based on a well-known method of vaccination, the institute said in a report released to the public. But what is new is the use of VSV – a type of virus that does not cause disease in humans. Through genetic engineering, proteins are attached to the vesicular stomatitis virus to form coronavirus “crowns” that are identified by the body as COVID-19. As a result, the body produces antibodies against it.
According to the report, all the hamsters that received the institute’s vaccine and were then injected with coronavirus did not become sick.
It is not yet clear which company will reach the finish line first and whose vaccine will work, but these three men are for now humanity’s hope. If they succeed, the world will be a healthier place.