25 research projects to whip coronavirus get NIS 9 million in funding

Projects that deal with diagnosis, vaccine, treatment and more to be subsidized by a program set up by Council of Higher Education and philanthropies

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrativeechnicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, on March 17, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Illustrativeechnicians carry out a diagnostic test for coronavirus in a lab at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa, on March 17, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Council for Higher Education and philanthropic foundations have selected 25 research programs that together will get a total of NIS 9 million ($2.6 million) in grants for their work to help combat the deadly coronavirus.

The selected projects deal with diagnostics, developing a vaccine against the virus, finding effective treatments for patients with severe cases of the disease, and curbing the spread of the virus, the organizers of the grants program said in a statement on Tuesday.

The so called killCorona grants program, for a total of NIS 14 million ($4.1 million) over two rounds of grants, was announced in April, as the coronavirus spread rapidly both worldwide and in Israel.

In light of the urgency of the issue, the proposals were subjected to an accelerated evaluation process, the statement said. The applications were evaluated by a committee made up representatives and physicians from Israeli universities and medical centers, based on their scientific quality, feasibility, and potential to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 in the short and medium-term.

The 25 projects were selected out of 285 submitted in the first round to the Israel Science Foundation, which is coordinating the program. They addressed a wide variety of fields and approaches, including immunology, virology, pharmacology, molecular and cellular biology, epidemiology, artificial intelligence, robotics, engineering, as well as interdisciplinary studies integrating different approaches.

Considering the urgency, and with the idea of joining forces with worldwide efforts to curb the pandemic, applicants for the funds committed to full and immediate sharing of the research data and results with the entire scientific community in Israel and abroad.

Among the projects selected in this first round of funding are work by researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science that are seeking biomarkers of the virus and potential therapeutic targets; a Hebrew University project that is developing therapeutic human monoclonal antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 illness; a Hebrew University study to identify genes involved in the pathogenicity of COVID-19 for drug therapy; and a Tel Aviv University project for the in vivo selection of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Another project, being done at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, is looking at the probability of the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 from mother to fetus.

The second call for proposals under the killCorona program was recently opened for registration and submission, the statement said.

The program is funded in equal parts by the Council for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee and a partnership of philanthropic foundations – Yad Hanadiv, the Klarman Family Foundation, the William Davidson Foundation, the Russell Berrie Foundation, and the Wolfson Family Charitable Trust.

Full disclosure: The Klarman Family Foundation’s Seth Klarman is the chairman and capital partner of The Times of Israel.

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