Yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the CDC's infectious disease unit, affirmed that even though Gilead and Moderna might be ready, or almost ready, for Phase 1 trials, the US likely won't have a workable vaccine for another year to 18 months.
And on Thursday, a team of Israeli scientists one-upped the US, boasting that they could have a vaccine ready "in a few weeks."
According to a statement cited by the Jerusalem Post, a team of Israeli scientists are on the cusp of developing the first vaccine against the novel coronavirus, according to Israel's Science and Technology Minister, Ofir Akunis. If all goes as planned, the vaccine could be ready within a few weeks and available for human use in 90 days.
"Congratulations to MIGAL [The Galilee Research Institute] on this exciting breakthrough," Akunis said. "I am confident there will be further rapid progress, enabling us to provide a needed response to the grave global COVID-19 threat," Akunis said.
For four years, a team of scientists at MIGAL has been developing a vaccine to combat infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), which causes a bronchial disease affecting poultry. The effectiveness of the vaccine has been demonstrated during preclinical trials carried out at the Veterinary Institute.
During the process, they discovered a process for developing new vaccines that they expect will help facilitate a novel coronavirus vaccine in world-beating time.
"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 biotechnology group leader. "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."
Here's how the team discovered their project would be useful for the coronavirus vaccine.
In preclinical trials, the team demonstrated that the oral vaccination induces high levels of specific anti-IBV antibodies, Katz said.
"Let’s call it pure luck," he said. "We decided to choose coronavirus as a model for our system just as a proof of concept for our technology."
But after scientists sequenced the DNA of the novel coronavirus causing the current worldwide outbreak, the MIGAL researchers examined it and found that the poultry coronavirus has high genetic similarity to the human one, and that it uses the same infection mechanism, which increases the likelihood of achieving an effective human vaccine in a very short period of time, 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."
Akunis said his government has 'fast-tracked' all the approval processes for the vaccine to get it out as soon as possible.
MIGAL would be responsible for developing the new vaccine, but it would then have to go through a regulatory process, including clinical trials and large-scale production, Katz said.
Akunis said he has instructed his ministry’s director-general to fast-track all approval processes with the goal of bringing the human vaccine to market as quickly as possible.
"Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development," MIGAL CEO David Zigdon said. The vaccine could "achieve safety approval in 90 days," he said.
It will be an oral vaccine, making it particularly accessible to the general public, Zigdon said.
"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.
Israel has only confirmed a handful of cases among travelers who visited South Korea and Italy (one case they confirmed on Thursday). We wonder: If Iran does roll out a vaccine, will it share it with Iran?