Israel’s domestic vaccine expected to be ready for public by summer, report says

Shot produced by Defense Ministry’s Institute for Biological Research is currently undergoing Phase I trials; volunteers have experienced no side effects, Channel 12 says

Vials of a potential coronavirus vaccine are seen on an assembly line, in a photograph released by the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)
Vials of a potential coronavirus vaccine are seen on an assembly line, in a photograph released by the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

Israel’s domestically produced coronavirus vaccine will likely be ready for the public by the summer, according to a Friday report.

The vaccine, called Brilife, was developed by the Defense Ministry’s Institute for Biological Research. The first phase of clinical trials began earlier this month.

The volunteers who have received the vaccine in the trials have not experienced side effects, Friday’s Channel 12 report said, without citing its sources.

Some 15 million shots are already being produced, in the hope that the trial goes smoothly.

The Channel 12 report also said health officials are continuing to investigate Russia’s vaccine, called Sputnik V, and are currently against administering it to the public due to possible risks.

The first phase of Brilife’s clinical trial is expected to last roughly a month and will involve some 80 volunteers ages 18 to 55.

The second phase in December will test roughly 1,000 volunteers ages 18 to 85 at eight hospitals around the country. In this phase, volunteers with preexisting conditions will be allowed to participate.

If that larger group responds well to the vaccine and antibodies are detected in their blood, injections will then be given to some 30,000 people in April or May 2021. If the vaccine works well and there are no significant side effects, it will then be approved for full use in the general population.

Last month, the Defense Ministry announced that Israel had begun mass-producing the potential coronavirus vaccine and plans to distribute it to both Israelis and Palestinians if it is approved for use.

Volunteer Anar Ottolenghi receives a dose of coronavirus vaccine developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, November 1, 2020 (Courtesy)

The Institute for Biological Research, which operates under the auspices of the Defense Ministry on issues related to chemical and biological warfare, said it used state-of-the-art techniques to create its vaccine.

The vaccine is named Brilife, a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for health — bri’ut — and life. The name also contains the abbreviation for Israel, IL, as well as the letters that make up the acronym of the laboratory, IIRB.

Israel is producing a domestic vaccine as a backup plan while it also plans to purchase vaccines from pharmaceutical firms based abroad.

Israel is in the final stages of talks with British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to purchase “millions” of doses of its vaccine, which is currently under trial, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Friday.

Netanyahu said last week that Israel signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase millions of its coronavirus vaccine shots, days after the US pharmaceutical firm said data suggested the vaccine was 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19.

On Monday, Moderna’s Israeli chief medical officer said Israel will be among the first countries in line to receive its vaccine, after the US company announced initial results showing the vaccine is 94.5% effective.

Netanyahu on Monday spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the possibility of purchasing Russia’s coronavirus vaccine.

Israel has shown interest in the vaccine ever since Russia announced that it was ready for human trials, and in early November the director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center said the hospital had ordered 1.5 million units of the vaccine and would apply for Health Ministry approval for their use, pending the phase 3 trials.

A vaccine is seen as the best hope to break the cycle of deadly virus surges and severe restrictions across much of the world since COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year and unleashed devastation on the global economy.

Infection levels in Israel are creeping back up as the nation gradually emerges from its second nationwide lockdown.

According to the Health Ministry, 417 new coronavirus cases were recorded Thursday, which along with another 417 by Friday evening brought the number of infections in Israel since the pandemic began to 327,748.

The death toll stood at 2,744.

Of the 8,460 active cases, there were 318 people in serious condition, including 123 on ventilators. Another 86 people were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

The Health Ministry said 55,003 tests were performed Thursday, 1.4 percent of which came back positive.

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