The Galilee, Israel — For four years, scientists at MIGAL, the Galilee Research Institute, had been working on a COVID-19 vaccine without knowing it. They were developing a vaccine technology that could be modified to inoculate against a variety of viruses in poultry. As it happens, they randomly chose a poultry variant of coronavirus on which to demonstrate their proof of concept. Once COVID-19 became a global threat, the team parsed the strain of coronavirus affecting humans, and they saw that it was very similar to the one that they had been working against. Dr. Chen Katz, MIGAL’s biotechnology group leader, said, “Let’s call it pure luck.”
Now, the team is working around the clock to adjust their promising antiviral technology to fight against the novel coronavirus behind the current pandemic. “We are in the middle of this process, and hopefully in a few weeks we will have the vaccine in our hands,” Katz told the Jerusalem Post. “Yes, in a few weeks, if it all works, we would have a vaccine to prevent coronavirus.”
According to MIGAL CEO David Zigdon, “We are doing everything we can to accelerate development.” Israel’s Minister of Science and Technology, Ofir Akunis, has agreed to fast-track all requisite approval processes in order to get the vaccine to market as quickly as possible. The vaccine in development is a pill, and MIGAL is already in discussions with potential partners to accelerate trials and approval.
In the United States, a clinical trial run by Moderna Therapeutics began on Monday, March 16, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna CEO Tal Zaks told NPR that he thinks they may have set a record for how quickly they got a trial up and running. “We've been able to do that based on the fact that our technology starts with the digital information. So we did not need to have the physical virus, just the information,” he said. “And we used that and leveraged our platform and the experience we've had with the platform, as well as our pre-existing relationship with the NIH and National Institutes of Health, to be able to move so quickly.”