Israelis Testing Potential Cure for COVID-19

Researchers at the Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv have found a treatment for COVID-19 that has the potential to transform the struggle with this pandemic disease.

The treatment was developed by Prof Nadir Arber and his team in the hospital’s Integrated Cancer Prevention Centre. They recently used it to treat 30 patients in a moderate or serious condition with COVID-19 and reported success with 29 of them.

Sourasky Medical Centre in Tel Aviv Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in 2010 (photo Nati Shohat/Flash90)

As a result, Prof Arber describes the drug, called EXO-CD24, as both effective and inexpensive. It is administered by inhalation over a few minutes, once a day for five days.

29 of the 30 patients in the trial showed a marked improvement within two days and were released from the hospital three to five days later; the other patient took longer to recover.

EXOCD24 was developed over six months at the medical centre and prevents the patient’s immune system from going out of control and attacking healthy cells.

Dr Shiran Shapira says this experimental treatment has two unique characteristics. As well as preventing the immune system’s over-reaction, it is delivered directly to the patent’s lungs, which means that there are none of the system-wide side-effects that injections or oral treatments can cause.

Prof Arber added that EXOCD24 can be produced quickly, efficiently and at a very low cost in pharmaceutical facilities in Israel and later, globally.

It is not surprising, therefore, that he has secured Israel’s Prime Minister’s help to advance the second phase of testing.

Benjamin Netanyahu meeting Prof Nadir ArberBenjamin Netanyahu meeting Prof Nadir Arber (Amos Ben-Gershom/Israeli Government Press Office)

On Monday 8th February, Benjamin Netanyahu invited Prof Arber to his office for an update about the new drug. During that briefing, the Prime Minister said:

“If this succeeds, it will be huge, simply huge. This is of global significance. This is amazing.
I wish you success. If you need anything, say it and we will help you.
This little thing could change the fate of humanity.

Shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister of Greece volunteered the leading hospital in his country to take part in the next clinical trials. He happened to visit Benjamin Netanyahu on the same day in the context of a new co-operative agreement between Israel and Greece.

Sonya Cohen was one of the 30 patients and was unable to breathe when she arrived at the medical centre. She was placed in intensive care and needed oxygen. She later said:

“From the first [dose], it’s possible to say I felt a lot better.
After two days I got off the oxygen in stages and I could breathe.”

The first patient was involved in the Phase 1 trial on 26th September, so the team have had more than 120 days to follow-up on the patient’s health. The drug has proved to be safe and effective, without side-effects.

While Prof Arber thinks the vaccination programme is important, he feels EXOCD24 could have an even bigger impact if the next two phases of human trials are successful. That is because the scale of the pandemic requires successful treatments as well as vaccines.

Other countries want to participate in the trials, as well as Greece, and this could be the beginning of an even bigger programme, moving on to tackle other diseases which cause the immune system to overreact.