The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) said on Tuesday that it completed a “groundbreaking scientific development” toward a potential treatment for COVID-19 based on an antibody that neutralizes SARS-CoV2, the coronavirus that causes the disease.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense speaking on behalf of the institute emphasized that this achievement could potentially develop into a treatment for COVID-19 patients but that the development was not a vaccine.
The IIBR is a governmental research center specializing in biology, chemistry and environmental sciences that falls under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister’s Office. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tapped the secretive institute in early February to begin development on producing a vaccine. In early April, the center reported “significant progress” and trials on animals.
The institute has also been involved in plasma collection from Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19 to research antibodies, proteins made by the immune system that can attack the virus.
“This is an important milestone, which will be followed by a series of complex tests and a process of regulatory approvals,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the process could take several months given “the nature of this breakthrough.”
The development has three key parameters, according to the IIBR: first, the antibody is monoclonal (lab-made identical immune cells that are all clones of a unique parent cell), and contains a low proportion of harmful proteins; second, the institute has “demonstrated the ability of the antibody to neutralize the coronavirus”; and third, the antibody was specifically tested on SARS CoV2.
“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 ministry said on Tuesday.
The Ness Ziona-based institute is now pursuing a patent for its development, according to the announcement, after which it will approach international manufacturers.
Meanwhile, a study in the Netherlands published this week in Nature Communications also claimed that a human monoclonal antibody neutralized SARS-CoV-2, and SARS-CoV, in a lab setting.
“Monoclonal antibodies targeting vulnerable sites on viral surface proteins are increasingly recognized as a promising class of drugs against infectious diseases and have shown therapeutic efficacy for a number of viruses,” the scientists of this study wrote.
The antibody known as 47D11, targeted the spike protein that gives the coronavirus its name and shape, and “exhibited cross-neutralizing activity of SARS-S and SARS2-S,” according to the researchers.
These neutralizing antibodies “can alter the course of infection in the infected host supporting virus clearance or protect an uninfected host that is exposed to the virus,” and the 47D11 antibody can either alone or in combination with pharmaceuticals and therapies, offer potential prevention and/or treatment of COVID-19, according to the study.
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The global race to find a treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19
A number of Israeli scientific teams and over 70 groups worldwide are currently working to develop a vaccine or a treatment for COVID-19.
On Monday, Netanyahu pledged $60 million from Israel toward global efforts to develop therapies, diagnostic kits, and a vaccine for COVID-19 as part of an international summit of world leaders looking to raise $11 billion.
The European Commission pledged $1.09 billion, Britain pledged $482 million, Canada pledged $850 million, Japan promised over $830 million, and Saudi Arabia said it would put forward $500 million toward the effort.
Last month, Israeli scientists at the Migal Galilee Research Institute formed a new company, MigVax, to further adapt a vaccine they developed for a deadly coronavirus affecting poultry for human use. The scientists had been working for four years to develop a vaccine for IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus) which affects the respiratory tract, gut, kidney and reproductive systems of domestic fowl.
MigVax raised $12 million in an investment round led by OurCrowd for further development of the vaccine and said it hopes to begin clinical trials this summer.
Also in April, an Israeli scientist was awarded a US patent for his innovative vaccine design for the corona family of viruses and indicated that he was on track to develop a vaccine for SARS CoV2.
Meanwhile, two Israeli bio-medical companies have developed COVID-19 treatments that are being tested as part of a compassionate use program, a treatment option that allows for the use of not-yet-authorized medicine for severely ill patients.
RedHill BioPharma‘s investigational drug opaganib was used to treat patients with COVID-19 in Israel and preliminary findings have demonstrated clinical improvement. And Pluristem Therapeutics received backing from the European Investment Bank (EIB) just last week for its PLX cell therapy that it says may potentially be used to treat COVID-19 patients with pneumonia and pneumonitis. The therapy has been tested in Israel and the US with preliminary results showing a 100 percent survival rate.
In the US, Massachusetts-based company Moderna has begun clinical trials on an experimental vaccine, and California-based biotech firm Gilead Sciences is currently in a Phase III clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of its novel antiviral drug Remdesivir, developed originally for Ebola, in adults diagnosed with COVID-19. Initial results have shown promise.
These trials build on additional research including two clinical trials in China’s Hubei province led by the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, and a clinical trial in the US, led by NIAID.