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Coronavirus vaccine: Scientists in Israel likely to announce soon

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Jerusalem, Mar 12: Scientists in Israel are expected to announce in the coming days that they have completed development of a vaccine for the new coronavirus COVID-19, according to a media report here.

Israeli daily Ha'aretz, quoting medical sources, reported on Thursday that scientists at the Israel's Institute for Biological Research, supervised by the Prime Minister's office, have recently had a significant breakthrough in understanding the biological mechanism and qualities of the virus, including better diagnostic capability, production of antibodies for those who already have the virus and development of a vaccine.

Coronavirus vaccine: Scientists in Israel likely to announce soon

The development process, however, requires a series of tests and experiments that may last many months before the vaccination is deemed effective or safe to use, the report said.

The Defence Ministry, however, did not confirm the same in its response to the daily.

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"There has been no breakthrough in the efforts of the biological institute to find a vaccine for the coronavirus or to develop testing kits. The institute's work is conducted according to an orderly work plan and it will take time. If and when there will be something to report, it will be done in an orderly fashion", the Defence Ministry told Ha'aretz.

"The biological institute is a world-renowned research and development agency, which relies on experienced researchers and scientists with great knowledge and quality infrastructures. There are now more than 50 experienced scientists working at the institute on researching and developing a medical remedy for the virus," it added.

The Institute for Biological Research, located in the central Israeli town of Nes Tziona, was established in 1952 as part of the Israel Defence Forces' Science Corps, and later became a civilian organisation. It is technically under the supervision of the Prime Minister's Office, but is in close communication with the Defence Ministry, as per the report. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to have ordered the institute to devote resources to develop a vaccine for Covid-19 on February 1.

The normal process of development of such a vaccine requires a long process of pre-clinical trials on animals, followed by clinical trials. This period allows for a full characterization of side effects and a better understanding of how different populations are affected, the daily said.

The global emergency over the coronavirus pandemic however may accelerate this process in order to vaccinate as many people who are most at risk from the virus, it said.

Israel's most popular news portal, Ynet, reported about three weeks ago that five shipments of virus samples arrived here from Japan, Italy and other countries. They were brought by a specially secured Defence Ministry courier to the Institute for Biological Research and had been frozen at -80 degrees Celsius, it said.

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There has been intensive work, including by leading experts, to develop the vaccine since then.

Experts believe that the length of time needed to develop a vaccine runs from a few months to a year and a half. Numerous research teams all over the world are participating in the race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Many of them at this point are focusing on the way the virus presents itself in animals, with the biggest hurdle being the way it morphs when it moves from animals to human beings.

China released the genetic sequence of the virus on open scientific databases shortly after its outbreak in January so that research institutes and commercial companies could try to develop treatments and vaccines without requiring to obtain samples.

Around a month and a half after the genetic sequence was published, biotechnology company Moderna, Inc., based in Boston, Massachussets, announced it had completed the development of a possible coronavirus vaccine, Ha'aretz reported.

The vaccine was sent to the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, with clinical trials, which will include up to 25 health participants to start in April, the report said. Any vaccine developed in Israel will presumably also need to go through a similar or even stricter process before it will be approved for use, the daily said.

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