Israeli technology gears up to make oral Covid-19 booster vaccine a reality soon

The world is yet frozen with fear, as sickness and death from the pandemic continue unabated. Recent official figures from countries and health authorities indicate global figures of over 176,531,700 cases and over 3,826,180 confirmed deaths.

Despite this, fighting the pandemic is not as hopeless now as it was until the end of 2020.

In other words, global communities welcomed with relief, the rays of hope that arrived in the form of the Covid-19 vaccine. Even so, the reality is that a significant section of the global community needs to be immune to the virus for the pandemic to recede.

As sickness and death darkened the world in 2020, medical experts sought lessons from the past, and zeroed in on creating a vaccine, the dependable technology human beings have turned to over the years, to reduce deaths from infectious diseases.

Under normal circumstances, vaccines are researched and tested for years before approved for use on humans. However, the urgency of the pandemic pushed scientists into a feverish race to produce safe and effective coronavirus vaccines to an unrealistic timeline. And, even as 2020 global news cycles were dominated by the aggressive and deadly spread of Covid-19, 2021 global news cycles are led by positive news of strategies to end the pandemic through aggressive vaccination programs.  

As global records indicate, 21.1% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while at least 2.5 billion doses have been globally administered, and 33.9 million vaccines are administered daily. However, in low-income countries, only 0.8% of people have received at least one dose.

Accordingly, the challenge now is to ensure the availability of the Covid-19 vaccine to all countries in the world. Medical experts stress the necessity of protecting as many people in the world as possible, against the virus, to thwart the pandemic’s onslaught.  

On May 15, 2020, Operation Warp Speed was launched as a public–private partnership by the U.S. government, to accelerate development, manufacture, and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. Earlier, in February 2020, a newly-formed Israeli company, MigVax, began working in tandem with the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute in the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, to develop an oral vaccine for Covid-19; they also secured $12 million as investment through Israeli crowdfunding venture investment platform OurCrowd. MigVax Covid-19 vaccine research was based on the   successfully developed vaccine against the avian coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), which showed strong similarity to Covid-19.

Although MIGAL, in February 2020, was the first company in the world to announce its plan to get a vaccine on the market, there was a delay in moving forward. Subsequently, over a year later, MigVax recently reported its vaccine was effective on rats; it now plans on producing a booster dose for next year, for already-vaccinated people.

The infectious disease expert at MigVax, Prof. Itamar Shalit, said, “Fifteen months into the pandemic, we now see that the struggle to keep Covid under control is nearly as challenging as getting it under control to begin with.”

MigVax’s aim, with its oral booster MigVax-101, is to enable the world to transition from “panic mode” to routine behavior, as this oral vaccine will reduce vaccine costs for nations, while helping boost the reach of ongoing vaccination programs, much like a dental clinic can help oral health with routine checks.

As Dr. Morris Laster, who is responsible for medical technology investments for OurCrowd, said, “They are looking to use this as a booster for those who took the Chinese vaccine, AstraZeneca or Moderna or Pfizer.”

Furthermore, the MigVax-101 has several advantages, which will make it a critical component of the global Covid-19 vaccination program, in the near future.

Firstly, unlike Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, which are mRNA vaccines, MigVax-101 is not based on introducing pathogen particles to the human immune system. Therefore, those who are currently refusing the vaccine for fear of being injected by viral material, could be more inclined to be vaccinated. Moreover, the oral vaccine will not require the freezing temperatures critical for effective storage and distribution of mRNA vaccines. Therefore, it is socially and economically more advantageous for vaccinating isolated communities, especially in developing countries, which are currently left out of vaccination plans. Besides, due to being an oral vaccine, it can be taken by the patient at home, instead of a medical professional having to administer it. This convenience will encourage more people to be vaccinated, including those who are averse to the jab of a needle, and have currently opted out of being vaccinated. As Dr. Laster said, “People afraid to get injected should have an easier time swallowing protein. It’s kind of like drinking yogurt.” Furthermore, MigVax-101 uses more than one kind of protein in its makeup, which makes it a more potentially effective vaccine against emerging variants of Covid-19.

As MigVax CEO, Davis Zigdon recently said, the company is seeking $6million-$7 million to launch Phase I and II clinical trials. Depending on when the funds become available, and also as soon as the final approval is given by the Ministry of Health, they expect to start clinical trials; the plan, then, is to get the vaccine on the market within nine months.

The success of MigVax-101 will also boost the chances of success for other vaccine producers who are basing their products on the Israeli oral vaccine technology. To the rest of the world, what matters is that the pandemic can soon become a nightmare of the past. What also makes the silver lining brighter, is the fact that the fear of Covid-19 is receding in the minds of global communities. The optimism that is replacing fear, is accelerating the chances of success. In the words of the famous physicist, Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” The time is now indeed.

About the Author
Scientist turned techie. Founder at Neliti & Reputio. Interested in sharing lessons learnt from Tel Aviv's bustling technology ecosystem.
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