Photo Credit: MDA Spokesperson
Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov (in dark suit) visits the MDA National Emergency Dispatch Center in Kiryat Ono

The Galilee Research Institute (MIGAL) will produce the first vaccine against the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in a few weeks, “if all goes as planned,” Israeli Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis announced Thursday at a news conference in northern Israel.

The Galilee-based team of scientists have been working for the past four years on a vaccine to fight IBV, an infectious bronchitis virus that affects poultry. The vaccine has passed its clinical trials at the Veterinary Institute, according to Dr. Chen Katz, biotechnology group leader at MIGAL.

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In the trials, the team found that the oral vaccine induced high levels of specific anti-IBV antibodies, Katz said.

By coincidence, the team had chosen a coronavirus as a model for the system to demonstrate proof of concept for the technology. It was “pure luck,” Katz said, and when the team sequenced the DNA of the current COVID-19 novel coronavirus sweeping the planet, they studied it and realized the poultry coronavirus had a high genetic similarity. Both used the same infection mechanism – increasing the likelihood the team could adjust the system to the new sequence and rapidly develop a vaccine to fight the current global epidemic.

Clinical trials at Israel’s Volcani Agricultural Research Institute confirmed the treatment’s viability.

“We are [now] in the middle of this process and hopefully in a few weeks we’ll have the vaccine in our hands,” Katz said.

That’s not the end of the story, however.

“Given the urgent global need for a human coronavirus vaccine, we are doing everything we can to accelerate development,” said MIGAL COO David Zigdon. “The solution we are developing against COVID-19 virus has proven effective, and we believe a version for human treatment can be ready within eight to 10 weeks.”

But the vaccine – which will oral, like original Salk vaccine — must still go through pre-clinical trials, clinical trials and mass production. Zigdon said with everything streamlined, the vaccine could “achieve safety approval in 90 days” after the vaccine is approved for human treatment.

Akunis said he has instructed the director-general at the ministry to expedite the approvals so as to bring the vaccine to market as fast as possible.

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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.