Photo Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO
President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett at the Israel Institute of Biological Research in Ness Ziona

The city of Yeruham is a leading candidate in the race to become the site of Israel’s first vaccine factory, and President Reuven Rivlin, in full support, made sure to keep the periphery in the mix when he toured the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona on Thursday (May 7).

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett joined the president on his visit to speak with the scientists leading the development of an antibody against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus (a passive vaccine) and visit the labs where the work is being done. Rivlin was also escorted on the visit by IIBR director Prof. Shmuel Shapira and IDF. Brig.-Gen. Moshe Edri, Bennett’s assistant.

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It turns out the research has galloped ahead, and the research team has developed an entire series of antibodies — a huge achievement — which are able to neutralize the novel coronavirus using various mechanisms sourced from coronavirus patients.

The antibodies have been tested, and they successfully neutralized the aggressive coronavirus, the researchers said.

Hearing the development, the president asked Bennett and the IIBR staff to keep Israel’s social and economic periphery “at the forefront of their minds” – specifically mentioning “the possibility of opening an immunization production facility in Yeruham, which is working right now on the appropriate infrastructure for such a facility,” the president’s spokesperson said.

The city of Yeruham has been working already for months on preparing the infrastructure for construction of a vaccine production facility, and by February, local Council head Tal Ohana had lobbied the investment authority of the Finance, Economy and Health Ministries to convince them that her city’s advanced biotech and pharmaceutical industry made Yeruham a natural choice for such a venture. She cited the highly qualified professionals among the city’s residents and the affordable, available industrial areas in the dedicated biotech / pharmacy complex as some of the reasons Yeruham might be an attractive candidate.

The development of a series of antibodies further increases the likelihood of commercial success for a COVID-19 vaccine, an obvious fact that has not passed unnoticed.

“This is another great Israeli breakthrough in less than a week, which will allow us not only to deal with the current strain of coronavirus but also with possible mutations,” said Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. “I have instructed the military establishment and the Israel Institute for Biological Research to progress as quickly as possible to a treatment for everyone. We will not spare money or resources. Everything will be done to shorten the time to get to a commercial drug.”

The researchers said although the achievement has the potential to develop a drug for COVID-19 patients, it is not an immunization for the population as a whole. They estimated the technological breakthrough could shorten the process – which might take several months – and may be used even if the virus mutates in any way.

In the coming days, patents are to be registered for the antibodies they have developed. This is to be followed by the publication of the findings in a scientific article for peer review.

“This is a great day for Israel. This is another great Israeli breakthrough in less than a week, which will allow us not only to deal with the current strain of coronavirus but also with possible mutations,” said Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. “I have instructed the military establishment and the Israel Institute for Biological Research to progress as quickly as possible to a treatment for everyone. We will not spare money or resources. Everything will be done to shorten the time to get to a commercial drug.”

President Rivlin pointed out, “The whole world is hoping for the day an antibody, an immunization, a drug or treatment is found that will help us save lives. . . This is a long and complex process, but any breakthrough you make is a significant step towards victory.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.