Despite encouraging news that at least three vaccines provide some protection against COVID-19, leading Israeli medical entrepreneurs say additional vaccine and treatment options are still needed to end the pandemic.
“There will be other vaccines, no question,” said Eyal Desheh, chairman of MigVax, an Israeli company developing an oral vaccine for COVID-19. “But I would caution against declaring victory.”
A wide array of approaches is required to defeat the virus, Desheh said during a recent session of the Pandemic Venture Investment Series, co-sponsored by OurCrowd and the global thought leadership forum SALT Talks created by Anthony Scaramucci. Even if the promising vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Therapeutics — whose trials have shown to be more than 90% effective — continue to work and be safe, those alone will likely not entirely stop the pandemic, due to production limitations and storage challenges, including the need to store the doses at extremely low temperatures, explained Desheh, formerly an executive at generic drug-maker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
“There will be room for a number of vaccines around the world,” he said.
MigVax’s oral vaccine, which has proved successful against similar viruses in poultry, could be available next year if human trials go well, he said. It will offer the advantage of being simple to distribute and use.
“It can be kept in the refrigerator, and the school nurse can give a small ampule to the students to drink,” he said.
In the meantime, treatments and other forms of prevention are still needed as the world faces an increasing number of cases, with no end to the pandemic in sight.
Developing a variety of preventative measures and therapies that can target different stages of exposure and infection is key, said Gilly Regev, Israeli co-founder and CEO of SaNOtize, a Vancouver-based startup that has developed a nasal spray that kills COVID-19 and other infections.
“There won’t be one treatment,” Regev said. “It will be a combination of a few different treatments, and vaccines will be some of them. But it’s not necessarily just a vaccine.”
Clinical trials are now underway in Canada to confirm the safety of SaNOtize’s nitric oxide-based NORS spray, which aims to kill the virus in the nose before it spreads to the rest of the respiratory tract. Proven to kill 99.9% of the virus in independent lab tests, the spray was developed as a preventative measure, similar to hand sanitizer, to kill germs before they enter a person’s body, Regev explained.
“The virus multiplies in the nose, and if we can kill the virus at that point, before it becomes a full-blown infection, then we cure the disease,” she said.
The spray is easy to use and could also be effective against mutated forms of the novel coronavirus, a growing concern for scientists, she said.
“It’s not specific to this specific virus,” Regev said, explaining that naturally occurring nitric oxide has been shown effective against influenza, as well as other viruses, bacteria and fungi in lab studies. “If the virus mutates or changes, this will still work.”
Regev hopes it will be on the market as a preventative in mid-2021 if it passes the trials in Canada and elsewhere.
The company is also carrying out a trial to test if the spray can be an early treatment for people infected with the coronavirus.
“But finding those people early on in the disease is challenging,” she said, explaining that many people don’t realize they have the virus until they have been sick for many days.
The difficulty of finding early-stage patients is a main reason so many treatments under development have focused on hospitalized patients, who are already at the severe and later stages of the disease, she said.
In addition to logistical challenges, the developers of vaccines and treatments face new and changing information about the virus every day. Every few seconds, scientists, doctors and other researchers around the world seem to release a new paper or study on the coronavirus, Desheh said.
“I think that if we have learned something important and major about the coronavirus since it was introduced early this year it’s that we don’t know what we don’t know, and we don’t know enough,” he said.
In addition to spurring new research on the virus, the pandemic could also lead to breakthroughs and new methods to prevent or treat other viruses, and make the healthcare system safer and more efficient, the panel’s participants said.
“COVID is a terrible disease, but it also represents an opportunity,” said Gidi Stein, a physician and co-founder and CEO of Israel-based Medaware, which has developed an artificial intelligence-based platform to prevent prescription errors, the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. The pandemic has highlighted how overcrowded hospitals raise the risk of medical mistakes and spreading infections, he said, raising awareness of the need for other solutions, like better digital workflow tools and telemedicine. “COVID brings us a wonderful opportunity to really change the paradigms of how we provide healthcare to our patients.”
To watch the whole episode, click HERE.
The next episode of SALT Talks / OurCrowd Pandemic Venture Investment Series is ‘The FoodTech and AgTech Explosion in an Era of Disruption’ on Thursday, December 10, with Laura Flanagan, Co-CEO of Ripple Foods, Lou Cooperhouse, president & CEO of BlueNalu, and Yaniv Maor, CEO of Tevel Aerobotics. For details, click HERE.