Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Israel has isolated a key coronavirus antibody at its main biological research laboratory in Ness Ziona, calling the step a “significant breakthrough” toward a possible treatment for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that is the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “monoclonal neutralizing antibody” developed at the Israel Institute for Biological Research “can neutralize [the disease-causing coronavirus] inside carriers’ bodies,” Bennett said in a statement.
Bennett visited the IIBR on Monday where he was briefed “on a significant breakthrough in finding an antidote for the coronavirus.”
A statement from the defense minister quoted IIBR Director Shmuel Shapira as saying that the antibody formula was being patented, after which an international manufacturer would be sought to mass-produce it.
Shapira said the developmental stage for the antibody was complete. The antibody has yet to receive an official name.
The IIBR has been leading Israeli efforts to develop a treatment and vaccine for the coronavirus, including the testing of blood from those who recovered from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
Antibodies in such samples – immune-system proteins that are residues of successfully overcoming the coronavirus – are widely seen as a key to developing a possible cure.
The antibody reported as having been isolated at the IIBR is monoclonal, meaning it was derived from a single recovered cell and is thus potentially of more potent value in yielding a treatment.
Elsewhere, there have been coronavirus treatments developed from antibodies that are polyclonal, or derived from two or more cells of different ancestry, the magazine Science Direct reported in its May issue.
It should be noted that experts estimate the testing period for the antibody could be at least one year. They also stressed that at this stage the antibody has only been researched in a lab and that many hurdles must be crossed before it is turned into a medicine.
About 100 research groups around the world are pursuing vaccines, with nearly a dozen in the early stages of human trials or poised to start. But so far there’s no way to predict which — if any — vaccine will work safely, or even to name a front-runner.
“I am proud of the staff at the Israel Institute for Biological Research who have made a huge breakthrough.… the Defense Ministry in its entirety will continue operating on the front lines of the war against the coronavirus,” Bennett added.
Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged $60 million (about NIS 210 million) at an international donors conference to raise funds for the joint fight against the virus.
“I am confident that Israel’s leading research institutions, its world-renowned scientists and our unique culture of innovation can enable us to play an important role in advancing solutions… We hope to work with other countries to leverage our unique capabilities to find solutions for the benefit of all,” Netanyahu said.
Former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, the winner of the 2020 Genesis Prize, announced Monday that he will donate the $1 million award to organizations fighting the coronavirus pandemic and assisting people most affected by the outbreak.
Israel was one of the first countries to close its borders and impose increasingly stringent restrictions on movement to hamper the domestic coronavirus outbreak. It has reported 16,246 cases and 235 deaths from the illness.