The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) has completed a groundbreaking scientific development, identifying an antibody that neutralizes the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, according to a statement by the Defense Ministry.
“I am proud of the Biological Institute staff, who have made a major breakthrough,” said Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday after visiting the Ness Ziona-based lab. “Jewish creativity and ingenuity brought about this amazing achievement.”
This scientific breakthrough has three key parameters: The antibody is monoclonal, new and refined, and contains an exceptionally low proportion of harmful proteins; the institute has demonstrated the ability of the antibody to neutralize the novel coronavirus; and the antibody was specifically tested on the aggressive coronavirus.
“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 Defense Ministry said in a statement on behalf of the institute.
IIBR is now working to patent its antibody and secure a contract for its commercial development. All legal procedures will be coordinated with the Defense Ministry.
“It should be emphasized that this scientific achievement has the potential to progress towards a treatment for corona patients, and that it is not a vaccine for wide use,” the statement continued.
“This is an important milestone, which will be followed by a series of complex tests and a process of regulatory approvals,” the statement said. “This being said, the scientists at the institute believe that the nature of this breakthrough could lead to a shortening of the process, which could span over several months.”
Last month, IIBR announced that it had begun testing a COVID-19 vaccine prototype on rodents. The institute was personally asked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join the fight against the pandemic in early February.
The institute is also involved in plasma collection from people who have recovered from being infected with the new coronavirus, in the hope that this might help research.
MEANWHILE, IIBR and the small southern town of Yeroham on Monday night announced they have big plans to open Israel's first vaccine production facility, in partnership with one of two prospective international pharmaceutical companies, according to a spokesperson for the Yeroham local council.
The Monday night announcement came after a meeting Sunday between the heads of the IIBR, Yeroham’s local council and the CEO of an international pharmaceutical company. A model was presented that would allow for the quick establishment of such a facility, if approved by the Israeli government.
The facility can reportedly be built "in the very near future," even before IIBR completes full development and approvals for its coronavirus vaccine, which it predicts will be in early 2021.
In 2016, Israel's government adopted decision 120B, which ordered the establishment of a vaccine plant as a strategic asset for the State of Israel in the event of a pandemic, after a decade of discussions on the matter. However, negotiations on the matter had stalled since the decision was made, and no working models had been agreed upon until Monday's announcement.
According to the model, tens of millions of vaccine units of various types will be manufactured in Yeroham, which will ensure Israeli self-sufficiency during both regular routine vaccinations and in case of a pandemic.
While the Yeroham local council plans to provide infrastructure and manpower and IIBR will provide the research aspect of the deal, the model still relies on an undecided third partner for international operations, marketing and distribution purposes.
Negotiations are currently underway with two of the world's largest international pharmaceutical companies, one from India and the other from the United States. At the same time, in the coming days, they will turn to the Bill and Melinda Gates Fund, which aims to set up vaccination facilities around the world to help find a vaccine for COVID-19.
IIBR is not the only Israeli research team that has shared progress on efforts to develop a vaccine or treatment for the novel virus. MigVax, an affiliate of the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute, recently reported that it is close to completing the first phase of development of a coronavirus vaccine.
Last week, it secured a $12 million investment from OurCrowd to accelerate the path to clinical trials. The company told The Jerusalem Post that is hopes to begin human trials of its oral vaccine as early as June 1.