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Gantz: Israeli COVID-19 vaccine to begin human trials by month’s end

Defense minister says vaccine will be called ‘Brilife,’ a portmanteau of life and the Hebrew word for health, bri’ut

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, speaks with the director of the Institute of Biological Research, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, at the laboratory in Ness Ziona on October 19, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, speaks with the director of the Institute of Biological Research, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, at the laboratory in Ness Ziona on October 19, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday night announced that Israel’s Institute for Biological Research would begin testing a coronavirus vaccine on humans at the end of the month.

Following a visit to the secretive national laboratory and a meeting with its head, Shmuel Shapira, Gantz revealed the name of the vaccine: Brilife, a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for health — bri’ut — and life.

“We are at a very significant moment,” Gantz said. “Prof. Shapira and the entire team have done fantastic work. They are the scientific vanguard of the State of Israel and they have brought this vaccine to the stage where we can soon begin trials on human beings.”

Shapira said the institute began working on a vaccine on February 2 and that it was nearing completion now.

In August, Gantz announced that the laboratory would begin testing the vaccine on humans in mid-October. No explanation was given for the change in timing.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, speaks with the director of the Institute of Biological Research, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, at the laboratory in Ness Ziona on August 6, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

Gantz praised the efforts of the institute, which is also — according to foreign reports — involved in developing chemical and biological weapons and antidotes and defenses against them.

“If this process succeeds, it will be great news for the State of Israel and maybe for all nations of the world,” Gantz said.

In June, the institute announced it had completed successful coronavirus vaccine trials on rodents.

In a paper published on the website of bioRxiv, an online repository for papers that have not yet been peer-reviewed, the institute said it hoped to have a finished vaccine in a year, or possibly even earlier.

In the abstract of the paper, the researchers said their vaccine, which they tested on hamsters, “results in rapid and potent induction of neutralizing antibodies against SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19.

As of Monday night, the number of active cases in Israel stood at 29,597, after dropping below 30,000 in the morning for the first time since September 8.

Among those infected, there were 632 in serious condition, with 246 on ventilators. Another 180 were in moderate condition, with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. The death roll rose to 2,260, as of Monday night.

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