The COVID-19 vaccine race moved full throttle into the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as trial sites in both Saudi Arabia and Israel opened up and launched clinical trials. The state-run Israel Institute for Biological Research plans on commencing clinical trials for that Ness Ziona-based, internally developed vaccine candidate in October. In the meantime, CanSino Biologics, as reported by TrialSite, was able to put a deal together with Saudi Arabia opening up Riyadh, Damman, and Mecca for a 5,000 volunteer Phase 3 clinical trial. Moreover, state-owned China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) initiated in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The UAE government greenlit a trial involving up to 15,000 participants back on July 16 at a new trial site at the Al Qarain Health Center in Sharjah. Meanwhile, another Israeli vaccine candidate, now in the pre-clinical stage and based on a poultry coronavirus vaccine is now under development at the Migal Gaililee Research Institute, spinning off a startup called MigVax; the spinoff raised $12 million from the Jerusalem-based platform OurCrowd.
China’s Middle East Play
Robert Mogielnicki, an academic with the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, DC, recently told The Media Line, “Chinese firms are proving to be key players in the development and deployment of health care technologies within the Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia.”
Moves by CanSino Biologics and Sinopharm evidence Mr. Mogielnicki’s claims as both Chinese vaccine developers have focused intensely on securing agreements to conduct Phase 3 clinical trials for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
The Kingdom Embraces Ad5-nCov
TrialSite recently announced that Saudi Arabia and CanSino Biologics came to an agreement to launch a 5,000 volunteer Phase 3 clinical trial starting in Riyadh, Dammam, and Mecca. Known as Ad5-nCOV, the vaccine candidate has been in the front of the vaccine race until recently as cumulative data, although still promising, not overwhelming combined with other issues such as the Canada situation, raises more red flags about this China-based firm. In the case of Canada, the nation entered into a strategic deal with CanSino Biologics but growing tensions between Canada, the U.S. and China have apparently led to delays in the shipment of the investigational product to the trial site in Halifax.
Abu Dhabi and Sinopharm
Sinopharm (China National Pharmaceutical Group) agreed to a Phase 3 clincial trial involving up to 15,0000 volunteers. This study initiated on July 16 and recently expanded outside of Abu Dhabi with the opening of a testing facility at the Al Qarain Health Center in Sharjah. The trial site is part of Pure Health, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s largest medical laboratory operator and medical device distributor.
New COVID-19 Vaccine out of Ness Ziona
The Israel Institute for Biological Research, run by the Israeli Defense Ministry, plans on human trials for their internally developed vaccine. Under development for about six months, the IIBR commend preclinical animal research in March. The effort is led by Shmuel Shapira, IIBR director, recently declared in a press release, “There is an excellence vaccine…We have the product in hand.” This vaccine shows a lot of promise. Professor Oren Tsimhoni, manager of Infectious Diseases Unit at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, told Media Line, “There was excellent results in the animal models.”
While clinical trials are forecast to commence in October, this seemingly oppositional approach, to say a Russia (Gamaleya) or even the U.S. Operation Warp Speed’s need for speed, raises the question as to why the Israeli group’s pace is slower than others. It simply comes down to ensuring a high quality clinical trial is designed and planned with sufficient regulatory agency review and approval. Phase 3 clinical trials were forecast to mid-2021.
Migal Gaililee Research Institute Vaccine
Back in March, TrialSite reported that Migal Gaililee Research institute had developed a COVID-19 vaccine based on an existing avian coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV)-based vaccine. By April, a spinoff called MigVax Corp was launched to develop and commercialize the COVID-19 vaccine. The venture raised $12 million from OurCrowd, the world’s largest crowdfunding venture investment platform based in Jerusalem.
Migal Gaililee is an internally recognized, multi-disciplinary applied research institute located in Israel’s Northern Gaililee. Known as MIGAL, their interdisciplinary vaccine development group has been collaborating for several years on other vaccine projects.