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Israel’s own COVID-19 vaccine to be tested in Georgia, Ukraine and at home

NRx Pharmaceuticals will send inoculation, known as Brilife, to third-stage clinical trials, which will be conducted on tens of thousands of volunteers in Israel and abroad

Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits a laboratory in the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz visits a laboratory in the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

The Defense Ministry-run Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) announced Monday that it had inked a memorandum of understanding with the Nasdaq-traded NRx Pharmaceuticals to complete the clinical trials of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccine.

NRx Pharmaceuticals will send the vaccine, known as Brilife, to third-stage clinical trials, which will be conducted on tens of thousands of volunteers in Georgia, Ukraine and Israel, the Defense Ministry said in a statement. The pharmaceutical company will then oversee its commercialization.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz hailed the agreement, calling it “excellent news.”

“I anticipate that with this agreement, we will be able to complete the development of the vaccine and enable Israel to produce vaccines independently, because as we have seen recently – the coronavirus is not going anywhere,” said Gantz in the statement.

“At the same time, the IIBR and the entire defense establishment will continue to take part in the national effort to counter the effects of this pandemic. I would like to thank the scientists of the institute, who never stop working to protect us  — whether it be in the area of defense or health.”

“We at NRx are honored to have been selected by the Government of Israel to carry forward this life-saving mission,” said NRx Director Chaim Hurvitz. “As the first generation COVID vaccines are increasingly challenged by rapid mutation of the Coronavirus, we aim to develop a vaccine that can rapidly scale at low cost to serve the needs of both the developed and the developing world.”

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)

The Israeli vaccine is still deep in the trial phase. In December, the Institute for Biological Research successfully completed the first stage of testing and started the second phase, which has been ongoing.

Prof. Shmuel Shapira, the head of the IIBR and the driving force behind efforts to develop an Israeli COVID-19 vaccine, stepped down in May, in a surprise turn of events that cast further doubt on the future of the local inoculation venture.

The local vaccine’s development has lagged significantly behind that of its international competitors

The approval of several international vaccines and Israel’s rapid inoculation campaign have raised questions about the need for a domestically produced option that will be ready for distribution long after its competitors.

The Defense Ministry has defended the IIBR project, arguing that it’s necessary to ensure Israel has independent access to inoculations. It has been described by other officials as a backup plan to supplement vaccines purchased from pharmaceutical firms based abroad.

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