Israeli Company Hopes Universal Anti-Viral Vaccine Will Protect Elderly From COVID-19
Jerusalem-based Immunovative Therapies is conducting clinical trials in the US, as Israeli businesses vie for investors
Could reversing the aging process of an elderly person’s immune system slow the coronavirus death toll? An Israeli company is hoping to do just that with an experimental immunotherapy drug that it claims also provides pan-viral protection.
Mirror Biologics Inc., the Phoenix, Arizona-based commercial development arm of Immunovative Therapies (headquartered in Jerusalem), recently announced that it had received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to conduct clinical trials of AlloStim, an experimental anti-viral prophylaxis drug. The clinical trials will be conducted in the Bronx, New York.
AlloStim relies on a patent-pending technology called “allo-priming,” in which a young person’s immune response is imprinted upon an older person’s immune system to help combat infectious diseases. During the clinical trial, volunteers over the age of 65 will receive a series of injections of bioengineered cells.
“The vaccine is not specific to any particular virus,” Michael Har-Noy, CEO of Immunovative Therapies, explained to The Media Line. “What it does is it causes the immune system to change. In the case of the elderly, it changes their immune system into the same kind of immune system that appears in younger people.
“The concept is that if we can make the elderly respond to viruses like younger people do, then we can minimize the hospitalization and deaths associated with these viral infections because they disproportionately affect the elderly,” he said.
Clinical trials for the pioneering anti-viral drug have been fast-tracked and Har-Noy expects to have all the necessary data in the next six months.
“If we are able to prove that it’s protecting the elderly then we’ll try to negotiate with the FDA to bring it to market quickly,” he stated.
More than 500,000 people worldwide have so far died from COVID-19 pandemic and the elderly have been disproportionately affected. In fact, the United Nations estimates that fatality rates for those over 80 years of age are five times the global average.
A person’s immune system becomes less responsive to viruses as it ages. Har-Noy believes that immunotherapy drugs could reverse this process and help the elderly cope with a wide range of ills, including COVID-19 and metastatic cancers.
The National Cancer Institute has referred to immunotherapy as the “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment and is currently investigating how immune cells taken from healthy donors could kill tumors that are resistant to chemotherapy.
“Everyone has two arms of their immune system: One we call the innate and the other we call the adaptive,” clarified Har-Noy. “The innate is like a primitive immune system and it is mostly responsible for the early rapid response to any virus or pathogen…What our drug does is basically remodel and imprint onto the patient a new innate immune system.”
Har-Noy spoke to The Media Line on the sidelines of “COVID-19 Innovation: New York Meets Jerusalem,” a virtual conference organized by JLM-BioCity, the New York-Israel Chamber of Commerce, the Israel Economic Mission in New York, Empire State Development, and BioIdea. The online meeting, which took place on Monday, included presentations by four Jerusalem-based companies, including Immunovative Therapies, who pitched their latest developments in the fight against COVID-19.
Keynote speaker Prof. Zeev Rotstein, head of Hadassah Medical Center, told online attendees that he was concerned that a recent resurgence in coronavirus infection rates in Israel could severely impact the elderly.
“Unfortunately, now we are witnessing the second wave,” Rotstein said. “What we’re seeing now is the second generation – our grandfathers and grandmothers – that have been infected by this wave and that are coming to [the hospital].”
If it proves to be successful, Immunovative Therapies’ new drug could have far-reaching consequences on how the world responds to pandemics in the future, Har-Noy believes, adding that the company is currently seeking investors to help bring it to market.
“If you could in fact just protect the elderly then economies could open without the fear of and increasing death rate,” he asserted. “The US government has invested heavily in Big Pharma and older technologies for vaccines.
“Small companies like ours with novel ideas have a hard time competing for that kind of capital. A lot of [venture capital firms] follow that same kind of strategy as the government because they see it as less of a risk.”
The concept is that if we can make the elderly respond to viruses like younger people do, then we can minimize the hospitalization and deaths associated with these viral infections because they disproportionately affect the elderly
Business Partnerships Complicated by COVID-19
However, the process of finding investors appears to have grown more complicated as a result of the pandemic and social distancing measures, according to Inon Elroy, the economic minister to North America for Israel’s Economy and Industry Ministry.
“Companies are sitting more on their cash and they might be more selective,” Elroy told The Media Line. “But so many American companies and VCs [venture capital firms] have their antennas in Israel so I don’t see the problem. We saw a few deals launch before the pandemic and materialize in the last couple of weeks.”
Israel’s economic mission continues to seek new opportunities despite economic hardships brought about by the crisis, he noted.
“We see quite a lot of interest in everything that has to do with business continuity, which is anything to do with diagnostics and treatments,” Elroy said, adding that US stakeholders are particularly interested in digital health, contact tracing technologies and special applications that can help restart businesses in a safe way.
Gerry Stoch is the Israel director of Empire State Development, the state of New York’s economic development arm, which helped organize Monday’s conference. Like Elroy, he confirmed that investors in New York are eager to find technological solutions to the crisis.
“New York State has been through a very tough time with respect to this pandemic,” Stoch told The Media Line. “At Empire State Development, we are looking worldwide for all sorts of solutions to the problems that have come up from this pandemic. We believe that Israel certainly has what to contribute, as do many other places in the world.”
According to Stoch, partnerships and collaborations between Jerusalem and New York are ongoing regardless of the pandemic.
“There are people in New York and in Jerusalem that are continuing to do what they do,” he said. “There’s obviously no travel but to the extent that it’s possible to do things remotely they are getting done.”