New Weapon in Arsenal Against COVID-19? Israel Working on Coronavirus Drug
© REUTERS / Ammar AwadA technician is reflected in a surface as she works at Healthcare Maintenance Organisation (HMO) Maccabi's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) public laboratory, performing diverse and numerous tests, in Rehovot, Israel February 9, 2021.
© REUTERS / Ammar Awad
Developed by Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Centre, EXO-CD24 aims to suppress the so-called cytokine storm that leads to a fatal outcome. The drug has already gone through two successful trials, with the third phase expected to kick off soon.
Israeli experts continue to follow with concern the high numbers of daily coronavirus cases, with the nation registering more than 9,000 new patients on Tuesday.
Although Israel is stepping up its mass vaccination efforts, inoculating nearly six out of its nine million citizens with two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and administering a booster shot to over 1.5 million people, the general belief is that the vaccines are not a panacea.
Looking for Solutions
But so far, they haven't managed to contain the spread of the disease, causing Israel's medical establishment to put more effort into developing drugs that could potentially fight COVID-19, with Shiran Shapira, head of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre, now saying they are one step closer to achieving their goal.
In August, Shapira and her team finished an experiment on a drug called EXO-CD24 to treat moderate to severe cases of COVID-19.
That experiment was part of their Phase II trial and it involved 90 patients in moderate to critical condition.
The patients were treated at three medical institutions in Athens, Greece, where, at the time, a surge in COVID infections was being experienced. They were asked to inhale Shapira's medication for up to five minutes. And the results showed that 93 percent of those given the drug were discharged within five days.
The current findings confirmed the results of the Phase I trial conducted in Israel last winter that saw 29 out of 30 patients recovering only days after being administered the drug.
"It was a successful trial, not only because patients were discharged quickly but also because we showed that the drug was safe and we didn't register any adverse effects connected to it".
Only Natural Ingredients
The reason for this, says Shapira, is that the drug uses "a natural system" based on exosomes. The latter are a type of extracellular vehicle carrying CD24, a small protein that plays an important role in the body's ability to control inflammations.
The rationale behind the drug that exosomes deliver CD24 to the lungs and suppress the cytokine storm, a severe complication of COVID-19 in which the body attacks healthy cells in the lungs, subsequently leading to death.
"Because our drug is targeting the complications caused by the virus, we don't really care whether there will be another variant or mutation. The aim of our drug is to prevent the deterioration of the patient".
Now, with Phase II behind them, Shapira and her team are up for yet another challenge - the last phase of their trial.
Some 156 patients will take part in that study. Two-thirds of them will be administered the drug, and one-third given a placebo. If the experiment confirms the findings of their previous studies, Shapira hopes that the medication will soon be available for the general public.
"I don't want to say, when exactly it will happen, because I don't want to promise something that we might not be able to deliver, but we hope that by the end of the year we will have some answers".
For now, however, she will need to deal with Israeli regulations and bureaucracy, which present a challenge, but she remains optimistic that these obstacles will be overcome soon.