February 28, 2020 | 7:45am | Updated February 28, 2020 | 9:22am
An Israeli scientist works at a laboratory at the MIGAL Research Institute in Kiryat Shmona in the upper Galilee in northern Israel.
Israeli researchers scrambling to develop a coronavirus vaccine say it could be ready in just three weeks – and available for use within 90 days, according to reports.
The scientists at the Galilee Research Institute, known as MIGAL, are adapting its vaccine against the avian coronavirus infectious bronchitis virus, or IBV, to work for the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“Congratulations to MIGAL on this exciting breakthrough. I am confident that there will be further rapid progress, enabling us to provide a needed response to the grave global COVID-19 threat,” said Ofir Akunis, Israel’s minister of science and technology.
The independent research institute, which specializes in the fields of biotechnology, environmental sciences and agriculture, says on its website that its team “includes 80 PhDs and a total of 260 researchers distributed into 53 labs that are managed by seasoned senior group leaders.”
Its vaccine for IBV, a bronchial illness that affects poultry, has already been proven in preclinical trials conducted at Israel’s Veterinary Institute, according to the news outlet.
“Our basic concept was to develop the technology and not specifically a vaccine for this kind or that kind of virus,” said Dr. Chen Katz, MIGAL’s biotech group chief.
“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, causing the body to form antibodies against the virus,” he added.
Endocytosis is the process in which substances are brought into cells by surrounding the material with membranes that form vesicles containing the ingested material.
The researchers discovered that the poultry coronavirus is very similar genetically to the human one — and that it uses the same infection method, Katz said.
“All we need to do is adjust the system to the new sequence,” he said. “We are in the middle of this process, and hopefully in a few weeks we will have the vaccine in our hands. Yes, in a few weeks, if it all works, we would have a vaccine to prevent coronavirus.”
The oral vaccine will have to go through a regulatory process, including clinical trials, he noted.
MIGAL CEO David Zigdon said the vaccine could “achieve safety approval in 90 days,” according to the Jerusalem Post.
“Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development,” he added.
Akunis said he has instructed his ministry’s director-general to speed up all approval processes.
“We are currently in intensive discussions with potential partners that can help accelerate the in-human trials phase and expedite completion of final-product development and regulatory activities,” he said.
Meanwhile, Israeli company BATM said Thursday it has developed a quick diagnostic kit to test for the coronavirus — and that production was underway at a facility in Rome owned by Adaltis, which produces medical testing devices, the Times of Israel reported.
The firm said the kit’s ability to successfully screen those carrying the virus had been verified by several labs and hospitals, adding that the test met criteria set out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.