Israel’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is much like Israeli society – fast, fascinating, and full of heart.
In my conversations with leading Israeli scientists, doctors, innovators, startup and NGO CEOs, the one thing they all have in common is that they feel an incredible sense of personal mission. They are working quickly, with purpose, and fully aware of the huge responsibility they are undertaking.
At the onset of the virus, when Covid-19 began to look more serious than various epidemics of the past, many turned inward and asked themselves, “What can I do to help? How can I use my research/technology/position to make a difference?”
Many spoke to me about how their families ask them for progress updates, and how they feel a personal responsibility to be able to respond optimistically. This motivates them to work harder and even longer hours to get results.
I believe the response to this pandemic has been uniquely Israeli. As a community, we are used to having to respond quickly to crises. Since the country was re-established in 1948, we have faced eight wars, two Palestinian intifadas, and a series of armed conflicts in order to survive.
For Israelis, this is unfortunately just one in a long line of existential threats.
As a society, we are used to being agile, and pivoting quickly to deal with emergencies as they arise. This has been reflected in the speed at which new and adapted innovations have been announced to help tackle the coronavirus in Israel.
These efforts have already begun to have an impact, particularly in the areas of testing.
The biomed division of technology company BATM, for example, which is based in Hod Hasharon and has labs in several countries, is well known for infectious diseases diagnostics. By May 2020, the company had already produced several tests that can diagnose the coronavirus and is now working on a home test kit with Israeli life sciences company Novamedis.
A team of researchers at Hebrew Universitydeveloped what they say is a cheaper and quicker test for the virus. The team is now developing a test that would enable testing 10,000 to 100,000 individuals simultaneously.
Zebra Medical Vision’s artificial intelligence-powered diagnostics technology is being tested to help predict which coronavirus patients’ conditions will worsen.
In the area of patient care, TytoCare developed Tyto Home, a revolutionary all-in-one modular telehealth examination device allowing medical staff to remotely examine quarantined or symptomatic patients at home or in the hospital.
Temi robots are being used in hospitals and care homes across Israel, China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the United States, helping to care for patients and residents while protecting medical staff.
Cause for hope
As we’re unfortunately and frustratingly seeing the number of coronavirus cases rising precipitously in Israel and in many countries abroad, efforts to prevent the further spread of the virus are more important than ever.
United Hatzalah’s Track Virus app, developed over one weekend in March as the organization’s CEO, Eli Beer, lay in a coma fighting his own battle with Covid-19, is one of several contract-tracing technologies developed in Israel over the past few months.
Israeli efforts in the areas of treatment development are well documented and undergoing rigorous testing as we speak.
Pluristem’s potential placenta cell therapy, for example, has indicated an 87% survival rate 28 days following treatment on coronavirus patients at severe risk of dying.
Kamada claims to be the first company in the world to complete the manufacturing of a plasma-derived IgG therapy for Covid-19. The company takes plasma from recovered patients and purifies it, taking specific antibodies to help other patients fight the virus, as part of compassionate-use treatment in Israel.
These examples suggest there is cause for hope in the treatment of patients who have already contracted Covid-19. Furthermore, much is being done to develop potential vaccines.
The Israeli Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), for example, recently published a non-peer-reviewed paper on the website bioRxiv, reporting that single-dose vaccination was able to protect hamsters against the SARS-CoV-2challenge.
Researchers at the MIGAL Galilee Research Institute found that their poultry coronavirus vaccine could potentially be adapted to the human coronavirus.
Testing is still needed and we don’t yet know which vaccines will go on to be proven effective. While people talk about a race for a vaccine, my discussions with scientists researching potential vaccines have suggested that this is not a “winner takes all” race. The virus could mutate, and people all over the world would need to be vaccinated, so the more vaccines that are developed, the better.
With so much research, development and innovation taken place so quickly in Israel, it is clear that there is room for hope. As we see the second wave strike, and restrictions begin to be re-introduced in Israel and other countries, I believe it is important to raise awareness of the incredible work being done by Israeli scientists, doctors and innovators in the fight against Covid-19.
Jodie Cohen is author of the newly released book, Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19, available at Amazon and at www.TikkunOlamIsrael.com. An award-winning public affairs and communications consultant, part of her work involves writing for global pharmaceutical, medtech and healthcare companies.