The Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Ziona.Israel has recently completed
development of an anthrax vaccine that would be more effective and safer
than the vaccine currently in use in the United States. The vaccine was
developed at the Nes Ziona Biological Institute over the course of nearly
ten years at the cost of millions of dollars.
According to a report
published today in Yediot Aharonot, the Israeli vaccine was developed
in one of the country’s most secretive research programs and just finished
initial clinical testing. The vaccine, given in the form of a shot, is
not yet available for commercial use. But the minute approval is given,
medical sources say, sufficient quantities of the vaccine could be produced
for the entire Israeli population within a matter of months, the paper
reported.
The vaccine was tested
on volunteers from the IDF, who were not exposed to the disease but rather
were checked for side effects from the drug. During testing the volunteers
were inoculated with the vaccine, and weeks later were checked for the
presence of anthrax antibodies in the blood. The presence of such antibodies
was proof that the vaccine was successful.
Yediot Aharonot reported
that the existence of an Israeli vaccine has surfaced in the media a number
of times. According to media reports, the vaccine was developed through
genetic engineering in cooperation with the IDF and the Israeli Ministry
of Health.
Reports of the initial
success of the Israeli vaccine appeared in the American Society of Microbiology’s
journal, Infection and Immunity, in August 2000. A study conducted
at Nes Tziona and led by institute director, Dr. Avigdor Shafferman, tested
the affect of the vaccine on guinea pigs and concluded that it led to
immunization against anthrax spores.
“We believe, therefore,
that [the use of genetically engineered anthrax spores] represents a platform
of a prototypic, safe, and efficacious recombinant vaccine for further
development and evaluation against a variety of virulent B. [anthrax]
strains,” concluded the abstract of the Nes Tziona study.
The Israeli vaccine is only the third such vaccine against anthrax existing
in the world today. An American vaccine was developed in the United States
over forty years ago and has been in widespread use there since 1970,
when the Food and Drug Administration licensed it. According to the U.S.
Surgeon General, the “vaccine has been safely and routinely administered
in the United States to veterinarians, laboratory workers, and livestock
handlers.”
The American vaccine was mandatory for troops serving
in the Persian Gulf War. The vaccine became the focus of controversy because
some soldiers refused to get inoculated due to their worries about the
vaccine’s safety. There were numerous reports of the vaccine’s severe
side effects. Only one American company, BioPort of Lansing, Mich., produced
the anthrax vaccine, but the Food and Drug Administration halted vaccine
production at the plant in recent years because of improper manufacturing
practices.
During this year’s anthrax
scare, five Americans died of inhalation anthrax, the most serious form
of the disease, and more than 12 others became sick. As a result, more
than 30,000 Americans were placed on antibiotics as a precaution. Even
so, the U.S. refused until now to release the military’s vaccine to the
public.
This week, U.S. Secretary
of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson announced that as many as
3,000 Americans who had been exposed to anthrax-laced letters would be
offered anthrax vaccine and 40 more days of antibiotics to kill any living
spores still present in their bodies.
This is the first time the American vaccine will be made available for
treatment. The strategy, medical sources say, is unprecedented. Vaccines
are typically given before exposure to a disease to prevent illness, not
afterward. The vaccine would be given in three doses over four weeks,
Thompson said.
But Dr. D.A. Henderson,
Health and Human Services’s director of public health preparedness, said,
“If this were a vaccine which… had no associated reactions [and]
would work very well, that would be one thing, but this vaccine does have
reactions associated with it, so there’s a negative side to it.”
Among known side effects
are swelling and rashes — caused by the shot itself — that can be “quite
dramatic,” said Kathryn Zoon, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s
center for biologics.
The Israeli vaccine would
have two major advantages over the American vaccine, Yediot Aharonot reported.
It would be administered in one shot, and, according to medical sources
familiar with the vaccine’s development, it would not produce side effects.
It is not yet known what
the cost of the Israeli vaccine will be. BioPort sold its vaccine to the
American military at a cost of $3 per dosage. An Israeli medical source
told Yediot Aharonot, “If we have to administer the vaccine to the
entire Israeli population, the price will be such that Israel could afford
it.