Breakthrough: Israeli Scientists Weeks Away From Coronavirus Vaccine

An Israeli scientist works at a laboratory at the MIGAL Research Institute in Kiryat Shmona in the upper Galilee in northern Israel on February 27, 2020. - After 4 years of multi-disciplinary research funded by Israels Ministry of Science and Technology in cooperation with Israels Ministry of Agriculture, MIGAL has …
JALAA MAREY/AFP

TEL AVIV – Israeli researchers have made a breakthrough in developing a vaccine against coronavirus and in a matter of weeks expect to have it ready, the Ministry of Science and Technology said Thursday. 

Scientists at the Galilee Research Institute MIGAL have spent the past four years developing a vaccine to protect poultry from the avian infectious bronchitis virus (IBV), a virus strain similar to the novel coronavirus currently plaguing the world.

Scientists sequenced the DNA of both the poultry and human coronaviruses and found they shared genetic similarities.

“Let’s call it pure luck,” said Dr. Chen Katz, the head of MIGAL’s biotechnology group. “We decided to choose coronavirus as a model for our system just as a proof of concept for our technology.”

“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.”

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said that once the vaccine was ready in a few weeks, his ministry would do everything to fast-track clinical trials and have it safety approved for the human market in as little as 90 days.

“Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development,” MIGAL CEO David Zigdon said.

An Israeli scientist works at a laboratory at the MIGAL Research Institute in Kiryat Shmona in the upper Galilee in northern Israel on February 27, 2020. - After 4 years of multi-disciplinary research funded by Israels Ministry of Science and Technology in cooperation with Israels Ministry of Agriculture, MIGAL has achieved a scientific breakthrough that will lead to the rapid creation of a vaccine against Coronavirus. This possibility was identified as a by-product of MIGALs development of a vaccine against IBV (Infectious Bronchitis Virus), a disease affecting poultry, whose effectiveness has been proven in pre-clinical trials carried out at the Veterinary Institute. MIGAL has now made required genetic adjustments to adapt the vaccine to COVID-19, the human strain of Coronavirus, and is working to achieve the safety approvals that will enable in-vivo testing, enable the initiation of production of a vaccine to counter the Coronavirus epidemic currently spreading throughout the world, which so far has claimed 2,666 lives. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP) (Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images)

An Israeli scientist works at a laboratory at the MIGAL Research Institute in Kiryat Shmona in the upper Galilee in northern Israel. After 4 years of multi-disciplinary research funded by Israels Ministry of Science and Technology in cooperation with Israels Ministry of Agriculture, MIGAL has achieved a scientific breakthrough that will lead to the rapid creation of a vaccine against Coronavirus. ( JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty)

“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, adding that scientists were working on an oral vaccine which would optimize reach.

As of Thursday evening, more than 1,700 Israelis were in self-quarantine, many of whom had been exposed to a group of South Korean pilgrims who tested positive for the virus. Israel’s national airline carrier El Al has suspended all flights to Thailand and Italy. The Education Ministry cancelled 29 upcoming school trips to Poland over the next month for more than 3,000 Israeli schoolchildren.

Israel has barred entry to nationals from or any foreigners who have been to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Italy and Japan in the past two weeks. Israelis who have visited those countries must remain in self-quarantine.

Israel’s Health Ministry took the drastic step of issuing a general warning against traveling abroad.

“If you don’t genuinely have to fly — don’t do so,” the ministry said in a travel advisory.

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