There is hardly a country with medical research capability that isn’t involved in the desperate search for a COVID-19 vaccine. Israel is among them but interestingly, for a country with a population of nine million, the imprint of its research scientists can be found in a number of the frontrunners, including Moderna Therapeutics, Pfizer-Biontech and AstraZeneca.

Within Israel, many researchers have been dedicated to finding a vaccine from the start of the pandemic. The question I’ve been asked is, how come Israel isn’t ahead of the pack? Isn’t it a research behemoth that continually punches above its weight?

The answer is that Israeli has always prioritised quality over speed. This was stated clearly by Professor Shmuel Shapira, director of the Defense Ministry’s Institute for Biological Research (IBR), in comments to the Knesset Science and Technology Committee earlier this year.

He said, “Our goal is not to be the first, but to find a vaccine that works for the citizens of Israel.” It should also be noted that unlike the three drug makers mentioned above, the IBR vaccine in development only requires one dose, not two. Logistically, that is a huge advantage.

Prof Shapira’s comment might seem like an apology, but in fact there has been a growing chorus of concern over the speed that vaccines are reaching the community without following proper process. Typically, a drug can take ten years to reach the market after phased trials to test its effectiveness and impact for harm on trial participants.

The current crop of vaccines is travelling this journey in around ten months.

So where does Hadassah sit in all of this, given that we are responsible for more than 50 percent of all hospital-based research in Israel?

Hadassah was involved with Phase 1 of the first clinical trial of Brilife, a vaccine developed by IBR and one that many Israelis (and others) are pinning their hopes on. That trial was completed at our Ein Kerem campus on November 26. Typically, the initial phase involves a small number of participants. At Hadassah, 40 people were involved ranging in age from 18 to 55. None had pre-existing illnesses.

Hannah Drory, the clinical study coordinator at Hadassah’s Center for Clinical Research, said that keeping contact with participants has been excellent and their cooperation “has been wonderful.” Why is this important? Because later trials will only happen once the efficacy of earlier trials is established.
This was confirmed by Professor Yossi Karko, director of the Center, who said that there had been no unusual side effects from the drug.

The next stage of the trial process will begin shortly and Hadassah will continue to be a major trial site. This is further evidence of the hospital’s importance in the research landscape of Israel.

A Covid update from Hadassah at 16 December.