Biological Institute examining Omicron characteristics in safety lab

Israel's BriLife vaccine will soon be evaluated for its effectiveness against the new COVID variant.

25-year-old Sharon Ben Hemo, a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Dentistry of Hadassah and Hebrew University, receives the IIBR's Brilife vaccine as part of the first phase of human trials in Hadassah University Medical Center, 08.11.2020 (photo credit: HADASSAH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER)
25-year-old Sharon Ben Hemo, a fourth-year student at the Faculty of Dentistry of Hadassah and Hebrew University, receives the IIBR's Brilife vaccine as part of the first phase of human trials in Hadassah University Medical Center, 08.11.2020
(photo credit: HADASSAH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER)

The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) is examining the characteristics of the Omicron variant in its national safety laboratories at the request of the Health Ministry, the Defense Ministry told The Jerusalem Post.

The institute will use samples from one of the verified cases in the country or work to bring in samples in a controlled manner for abroad. So far, only two Israelis have been confirmed to be carrying the variant.

IIBR spearheaded the creation of a coronavirus vaccine candidate that is expected to remain effective against new variants, research has shown.

Earlier this month, the Post reviewed reports that showed via neutralizing antibody tests performed in the IIBR lab that the vaccine’s antibodies maintain their neutralization capacity against all four major viral strains: Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.

The data was submitted for peer review by The New England Journal of Medicine.

 A BRILIFE COVID-19 vaccination at Jerusalem’s Hadassah-University Medical Center during trials last year. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) A BRILIFE COVID-19 vaccination at Jerusalem’s Hadassah-University Medical Center during trials last year. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

BriLife is being managed by the American pharmaceutical company NRx, which in July signed an agreement with the Defense Ministry to help fast-track the vaccine. The company, which is traded on Nasdaq, was given exclusive worldwide development, manufacturing and marketing rights.

The Brilife vaccine, in contrast, is a vector-based vaccine. It takes the vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) and genetically engineers it so that it will express the spike protein of the novel coronavirus on its envelope.

Once injected, it does not cause a disease by itself. VSV does not harm humans; instead, the body recognizes the spike protein that is expressed on the envelope and begins to develop an immunological response. The vaccine will initially be delivered by traditional injection.

“The BriLife vaccine differs from other COVID-19 vaccines by presenting the entire COVID-19 spike protein to the body’s immune system,” NRx explained in a release in August. “It also differs from other COVID-19 vaccine approaches in that it is a self-propagating, live-virus vaccine in which the spike protein of the vaccine appears to evolve in a manner consistent with the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in nature.

“Thus, while variants may arise that support manual enrichment of the vaccine against those specific variants, the vaccine itself may continue to evolve in a manner that provides ongoing protection against variants,” the release said.

It is too early to know if BriLife would be equally as effective against the Omicron variant, but such tests will be conducted, the Post confirmed.

While Pfizer is also still testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron and would likely only know more in the next two weeks, the Health Ministry said on Sunday that the variant is not expected to cause severe disease among those who are vaccinated.