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Israel’s promising ‘precision’ COVID drug starting trial in Greece next week

Medicine hailed as a ‘huge breakthrough’ by inventors and as a ‘miracle drug’ by Netanyahu embarks on path to possible approval, in hope it will help crisis spots like India

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Paramedics take a COVID-19 patient to a ward after doing an X-ray at a government-run hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
Paramedics take a COVID-19 patient to a ward after doing an X-ray at a government-run hospital in Kathmandu, Nepal, May 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Israel’s “precision medicine” for COVID-19, which tackles the immune overreaction that causes deterioration from the disease, will start a second round of clinical trials in Greece next week.

The testing comes with interest in coronavirus drugs sky-high, amid spiraling cases in several countries where widespread vaccine protection isn’t expected anytime soon, including India, where there are more than 300,000 new cases per day, and Nepal, where hospitals are struggling.

The inhaled drug EXO-CD24 was given to 30 patients in moderate condition or worse, and all of them recovered, 29 of them within three to five days. In February Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center revealed that it had invented and started testing the drug, calling it a “huge breakthrough.” It has since been subjected to further testing in vitro and on animals in Israel, and has performed well.

Another small human trial is planned for Israel but the main trials are moving to Greece, as Israel has few hospitalized coronavirus patients following its successful vaccination campaign.

“Now we will start Phase 2 testing, and it’s important to advance this drug as there are countries that don’t yet have vaccines,” said the drug’s inventor, Prof. Nadir Arber, a senior doctor at Ichilov. “We still need drugs like ours, which can be produced rapidly, efficiently and cheaply.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meeting with Prof. Nadir Arber in Jerusalem on February 8, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office)

Explaining how the drug works, he said: “It inhibits the cytokine storm, which is the overstimulation of the immune system, intervening precisely at the place where the ‘fire’ is. It’s precision medicine.”

In February, on the same day that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Arber and asked him about his “miracle drug,” the premier lauded the drug to visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who suggested that a Greek hospital run a clinical trial.

Arber told The Times of Israel on Thursday that the Phase 2 trial in Greece will involve 90 coronavirus patients.

“It will compare two different doses to see which will be most effective,” he said. “Then, in a further study in Greece, we will be comparing between placebo and the chosen dose of the drug.”

He said that the Phase 2 trial will take around two months, and if all goes according to plan, the drug could be available for widespread use in hospitals by the end of 2021.

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