Israeli Vaccine Developer Says Program Needs Shot in the Arm

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Minister of Health Yuli Edelstein (standing behind him) visit Teva Pharmaceuticals’ logistics center in Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines will be stored and distributed. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The head of Israel’s program to develop a Covid-19 vaccine says it is being shunted aside by its own government in favor of commercial drug firms abroad, according to Globes on Tuesday.

While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have hailed the program for its accomplishments during high-profile visits, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, director general of the Israel Institute of Biological Research told the Knesset Science and Technology Committee that words aren’t enough.

“We don’t have strong enough backing. There is in Israel a very big tendency to give respect to companies whose mother tongue is English. We are not a company that is offering shares, there are no shares in the Institute. We are very, very reliable. Our professional and ethical commitment is very high, and we keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Shapira claimed that over-regulation has been holding back the project.

“We have come a long way, which was very difficult. The very strict regulator in Germany, where people are very formal, saw what we had been though and thought that it was too long and too complicated, and I won’t expand on that. Even senior people in Israel want to volunteer for our next trial.”

Israel has already ordered eight million doses of vaccine from Pfizer, 10 million from AstraZeneca, and unknown millions from Moderna. Vaccinations should begin in January, while the Israel Institute of Biological Research’s vaccination won’t be ready until the summer at the earliest.

The Institute began vaccinating volunteers early last month, as part of a Phase I trial to see if the vaccine produces enough antibodies. If that trial is successful, the Institute will begin a Phase II/III trial in the middle of the first half of 2021.

But, Shapira said, the Israeli vaccine will have a substantial advantage worth waiting for: it would probably require only one injection, compared with two for all the companies that have announced successful Phase III results.

“It would be very difficult to vaccinate all of Israel once, but to have to do it twice?” he asked.

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