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TV: Israeli-made COVID vaccine at least 80% effective, initial results show

Israel Institute for Biological Research indicates over 4 out of 5 volunteers in ongoing clinical trials developed antibodies, Channel 12 reports

A volunteer in the Phase 2 trial for Israel's coronavirus vaccine, BriLife, at Sheba Medical Center, on December 28, 2020 (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)
A volunteer in the Phase 2 trial for Israel's coronavirus vaccine, BriLife, at Sheba Medical Center, on December 28, 2020 (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

The latest results from the clinical trials of Israel’s homegrown COVID-19 vaccine, BriLife, show that it is at least 80 percent effective at preventing severe disease and may provide longer-lasting protection.

Channel 12 reported on Friday that the government-run Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona indicated that, so far, over 80% of volunteers who received the two-shot Israeli vaccine at its highest doses during clinical trials developed antibodies, suggesting an efficacy rate of 80%.

These high doses were trialed in Israel and are being applied in Georgia and Ukraine where the jab is being tested in Phase IIb/III trials with unvaccinated volunteers over the age of 18.

The institute hopes that additional results will show the vaccine to be up to 85% effective, according to the report.

This would make BriLife, pending results from Phase III studies, one of the most effective non-mRNA vaccine, with the AstraZeneca jab demonstrating approximately 74% efficacy and the Johnson & Johnson Janssen shot showing 85.4% efficacy against severe disease and 93.1 % against hospitalization.

Of the mRNA ((messenger RNA) vaccines, a type of jab that teaches our cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, both Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna have shown over 90% efficacy against severe infection and at preventing hospitalization.

The BriLife vaccine is a live-virus inoculation in which the spike protein of the vaccine appears to evolve in a manner consistent with the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in nature. The vaccine is based on a previous, FDA-approved vaccine platform that was further optimized by IIBR.

Sheba Medical Center nurse Hala Litwin injects a dose into Israel’s first human test subject, Segev Harel, as part of trials for Israel’s experimental coronavirus vaccine, BriLife, on November 1, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

A small, separate study with BriLife also suggested the vaccine may provide protection that lasts longer. In August, Channel 12 reported that some 200 volunteers who were inoculated with BriLife were notified that they did not need a third dose of the vaccine, as their protection remained high six months after getting a second dose.

Israel began administering “booster” shots — third doses — of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine in late July as the level of antibodies in those vaccinated began declining in the months after receiving the initial two doses, and a new more contagious variant emerged.

NRx Pharmaceuticals, the Israeli-American company currently working to test BriLife and commercialize the jab, indicated to the Times of Israel last month that the vaccine will “find its place in the market.”

Down but not out

The journey to develop the Israeli vaccine has been bumpy and has lagged significantly behind that of its international competitors.

The IIBR was tapped early on in the pandemic, in February 2020, to develop a jab and seemed to be making significant progress until efforts were reportedly slowed and Israel launched its mass vaccination campaign mostly with the Pfizer/BioNtech shot last December.

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

Director of the Institute of Biological Research, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, at the laboratory in Ness Ziona on August 6, 2020. (Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry)

In May, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, the former head of the IIBR and the driving force behind efforts to develop an Israeli COVID-19 vaccine, stepped down, in a surprise turn of events that cast doubt on the future of the local inoculation venture. In a new book, he claimed that heavy government interference, unexplained regulatory delays, and some level of “sabotage” were also at play.

NRx stepped in in July to continue the development of the vaccine and oversee its ongoing clinical trials.

In the interview with The Times of Israel, NRx chairman Dr. Jonathan Javitt also suggested BriLife may prove in the long run to be more effective than existing jabs against coronavirus variants.

“The antibodies produced by the [approved] vaccines are not as effective against variants, only against original COVID. And there is no stopping the wave of variants,” Javitt said last month.

Chaim Hurvitz, a former director of Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals and member of the board at NRx, said in July that “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.”

The Defense Ministry has also said 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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