Brazil's COVID-skeptical gov't pins hopes on Israeli drug in development

The treatment called EXO-CD24, developed by Dr. Nadir Arber at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, curbs the extreme responses by immune systems to COVID-19.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi meeting with his Brazilian counterpart, March 7, 2021. (photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi meeting with his Brazilian counterpart, March 7, 2021.
(photo credit: FOREIGN MINISTRY)
A delegation led by Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday to learn about a nasal spray being developed in Israel to treat COVID-19, as well as how Israel’s government and medical facilities are fighting the pandemic.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has become famous for his skepticism about novel coronavirus and the widely accepted pandemic responses, eschewing masks and saying he will not get the vaccine. Over 260,000 have died of COVID-19 in Brazil, where the outbreak is one of the worst in the world and new, highly-contagious variants are rampant.
Yet, in recent days, Bolsonaro has touted an Israeli “miracle product,” and “the real solution to treating COVID.”
The treatment called EXO-CD24, developed by Dr. Nadir Arber at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv curbs the extreme responses by immune systems to COVID-19 that have led to organ failure and death. It was tested with an inhaler and is being developed as a nasal spray.
Of the 35 patients on whom EXO-CD24 was tested, 31 were able to leave the hospital after two to five days of treatment.
While the drug did well in that early trial, it has only been tested on 35 people, without a placebo group nor has research about it been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
In that vein, the senior delegation from Brasilia plans to meet with officials at Ichilov, as well as the Weizmann Institute, Hadassah  Hospital.
Bolsonaro’s son and chairman of the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Eduardo Bolsonaro, part of the delegation to Israel, tweeted before his departure that they are on “the mission of bringing phases two and three of clinical tests to Brazil. God bless us,” he wrote, using a praying hands emoji.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly publicly touted the drug since Arber announced his findings in early February, though Netanyahu noted that it needs further development and testing. The delegation is expected to meet with him on Tuesday.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s International Affairs Adviser Filipe G. Martins explained that the delegation was in Israel “in order to deepen our partnership in the area of science, technology and innovation, including through cooperation in the development of medicines and vaccines against COVID-19.”
“Israeli excellence in several areas, including the development of technologies in the medical field is known worldwide and I am sure that this visit will yield partnerships that will make a difference in combating the health crisis and in the resumption of the Brazilian economy,” Martins tweeted.
Araújo, on his third official visit to Israel, led the delegation to Jerusalem on Sunday. The delegation was tested for COVID-19 before leaving Brazil, and agreed not to leave its hotel except for its official meetings, in a semi-quarantine measure due to the pandemic.
At the Foreign Ministry, where they met with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, the Brazilian delegation had to be reminded to wear masks and keep socially distant.
Ashkenazi expressed his condolences to the Brazilian people and noted that Israel and Brazil are working to expand their partnerships to fight the pandemic.
“We will help Brazil in any way we can and explore opportunities to deepen the research and development of drugs and additional solutions to the virus,” he said.
Ashkenazi thanked Brazil for opposing the International Criminal Court’s investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel.
The ICC’s “outrageous” decision to open a probe “distorts international law and harms the ability to hold negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians,” Ashkenazi said. “I thank Brazil for their clear position that the court does not have jurisdiction to discuss the issue.”
Ashkenazi also emphasized the importance of a united front against the Iranian threat, which has reverberations beyond the Middle East. The foreign minister noted that the 29th anniversary of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina is next week, which was carried out by Hezbollah under instructions from Iran.
“We see in recent days increased efforts by Iran to undermine regional stability,” he said. “We can see Iran’s fingerprints clearly in recent attempts to strike Israeli targets around the world.”
Araújo acknowledged the point, saying that “the Brazilian constitution has repudiation of terrorism among its principles. For quite some time, we were just saying that, but now we want to act against it and not pretend that it doesn’t exist in our region. This is a top priority for us, because Brazilians need security as much as Israelis [do].”
The Brazilian foreign minister said a stronger connection with Israel is “what the Brazilian people want and what Brazil needs,” and that Israel is a “key partner” in important areas for Brazil, such as technology and agriculture. He emphasized Israel’s advancements in green technologies.
When it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, Araújo praised Israel as “setting an example, as in so many other areas. This amazing country of yours is leading the way in vaccination and fighting the pandemic.”
Upon  Araújo's departure from the Foreign Ministry, a Brazilian journalist asked Ashkenazi about a comparison by a group of Brazilian intellectuals and artists of the COVID situation in Brazil and an "open-air gas chamber."
"I was so sorry to hear it happened during our meeting," Ashkenazi said. "I strongly condemn this language, this example. It is something outrageous. We strongly oppose it not only in the Brazilian example. Using this language is something which is unacceptable."
Eduardo Bolsonaro tweeted that the people making the comparison are "unscrupulous leftists," and said: "To compare  to the national scenario of the pandemic to the Holocaust is to ignore history, to disrespect the suffering of the Jews, and to attack the actions of the Bolsonaro government, especially at this moment when there is an official delegation of Israel seeking remedies to combat COVID."