Archive for May 19, 2020

Israeli Government Sworn-in; Iranian militia bombed in Syria – TV7 Israel News 18.05.20 

May 19, 2020



Moderna’s Israeli top medical officer: We’ve shown today that our vaccine works 

May 19, 2020

Source: Moderna’s Israeli top medical officer: We’ve shown today that our vaccine works | The Times of Israel

US biotech firm’s shares soar as it claims tests of first volunteers show its vaccine candidate produces immune response, ‘has potential to prevent COVID-19’; Phase 3 tests in July

The Israeli chief medical officer of US biotech firm Moderna said Monday that its experimental anti-COVID-19 vaccine “actually works,” after tests on a small number volunteers, and that it will start Phase 3 testing on thousands of people in July.

“We got the first results today… and today we are showing that it actually works… we are able to stimulate the immune system,” Dr. Tal Zaks said.

In an interview with Israeli television, Zaks said he was confident that, toward the end of the year, “we’ll be able to present first results that prove that our vaccine indeed prevents the disease.”

“By about the end of the year, the start of next year, there’s a reasonable likelihood that we’ll see this vaccine on the market, at least on the American market,” he said in the Channel 12 interview from Moderna’s headquarters in Massachusetts.

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tal Zaks. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Zaks said the battle against COVID-19 marked the firm’s ninth bid to develop vaccines against viruses, “and we succeeded with the previous eight.” Thus, he said, “the degree of confidence within the company was always high” that it would succeed this time, too.

News of the company’s progress, revealed in a release earlier Monday, lifted shares of Moderna more than 22 percent, and helped drive the broader stock market higher.

A sign marks an entrance to a Moderna, Inc., building, on May 18, 2020, in Cambridge, Mass. Moderna announced May 18, 2020, that an experimental vaccine against the coronavirus showed encouraging results in very early testing, triggering hoped-for immune responses in eight healthy, middle-aged volunteers. (AP Photo/ Bill Sikes)

The company said the vaccine candidate, mRNA-1273, appeared to produce an immune response in eight people who received it, similar to that seen in people convalescing from the virus.

At the lowest dose, Zaks elaborated in the TV interview, the vaccine candidate produced a similar response to that “naturally” produced by patients who recovered from the virus. At a medium dose, of 100 micrograms, he said, the vaccine candidate created “more antibodies” than those created naturally by recovered patients.

Three groups of 15 patients aged 18 to 55 received three different doses of the vaccine in the Phase 1 test, the complete results of which are not yet known.

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller, left, the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, on March 16, 2020. The vaccine by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna Inc., generated antibodies similar to those seen in people who have recovered from COVID-19 in a study volunteers who were given either a low or medium dose. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Phase 2 trial, with 600 subjects, has already received the green light from the US Food and Drug Administration and Moderna said they should begin this quarter.

A Phase 3 trial, the largest and most important to validate the efficacy of a vaccine, should begin in July.

“These interim Phase 1 data, while early, demonstrate that vaccination with mRNA-1273 elicits an immune response of the magnitude caused by natural infection,” Zaks stated in the firm’s official release. “These data substantiate our belief that mRNA-1273 has the potential to prevent COVID-19 disease and advance our ability to select a dose for pivotal trials.”

Moderna, which was founded nine years ago, said the vaccine “was generally safe and well tolerated” and that patients suffered no more than redness or soreness from the shots.

In a conference call, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the preliminary tests inspired confidence that mRNA-1273 has “a high probability to provide protection” against the virus.

“We could not be happier about these interim data,” Bancel said of the Phase 1 test, the first of three in the development of a vaccine.

Separate tests performed on mice showed that the vaccine prevented the virus from replicating in their lungs, according to the company.

The US government has invested nearly half a billion dollars in the development of Moderna’s vaccine candidate.

It is being developed in a partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease headed by Anthony Fauci and the clinical test was carried out by the National Institutes of Health.

“The Moderna team continues to focus on moving as fast as safely possible to start our pivotal Phase 3 study in July,” said Bancel, Moderna’s CEO.

Based on the Phase 1 partial results, Moderna said they would no longer study the highest dose since the lower doses appeared to provide some effect.

“The lower the dose, the more people we expect to be able to protect,” said Moderna president Stephen Hoge.

President Donald Trump has said that he wants 300 million vaccine doses by January 2021 to protect the US population, and his administration has provided funding to Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and France’s Sanofi.

The development of a vaccine usually takes years but the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused more than 315,000 deaths, has given unprecedented urgency to the search.

A dozen clinical trials are taking place around the world, half of them in China, according to the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

China has said that it is carrying out tests on humans of five experimental vaccines.

The challenge is not only finding a safe and efficient vaccine, but also producing billions of doses.

Several large laboratories, including Moderna, have said that they would immediately begin production of an eventual vaccine even before the completion of all of the clinical trials.

Moderna recently announced a partnership with the giant drugmaker Lonza to boost its manufacturing capacity to up to one billion doses a year.

Worldwide, about a dozen vaccine candidates are in the first stages of testing or nearing it. Health officials have said that if all goes well, studies of a potential vaccine might wrap up by very late this year or early next year.

More than 4.7 million infections and 315,000 deaths from the coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide since it emerged in China late last year. There are no specific approved treatments, although several are being used on an emergency basis after showing some promise in preliminary testing.


US biggest source by far of Israel’s COVID-19 cases, genome sequencing shows

May 19, 2020

Source: US biggest source by far of Israel’s COVID-19 cases, genome sequencing shows | The Times of Israel

Team of scientists, drawn from 9 institutions, also assesses 800 ‘super spreaders’ responsible for 80% of those infected

Illusrative: An Israir flight attendant wearing full protective gear walks next to passengers during an Israir flight between Tel Aviv and Eilat, May 13, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Illustrative image. A worker wearing protective clothing on a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, May 13, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A team of Israeli scientists have concluded that America was Israel’s biggest source of coronavirus by far, after running genomic sequencing on the virus.

The research team, which was drawn from nine institutions, also found that once the virus reached Israel, a small number of “super spreaders” were responsible for the large majority of infections.

Seven out of every 10 Israelis who caught the virus to date were infected with a haplotype — variant — that arrived in the country from the United States, Tel Aviv University evolutionary virologist Adi Stern, who led the study, told The Times of Israel.

She said that just 30 percent of people who arrived in Israel during the crisis came from America, so she was “very surprised” by how widely their haplotypes of the virus spread. She thinks it may reflect, in part, the unusually high level of interaction that Jewish visitors from the Diaspora have with Israeli citizens.

The pattern of the spread was also surprising, she said. “We think that about 5% of the infected population spread the virus in 80% of cases,” Stern revealed, explaining this means that just 800 people are believed to be responsible for four out of five Israeli virus cases.

This is suggested by the fact that numerous patients have genomes of the virus that are 100% identical, “and we would expect far more variety if there was a more varied transmission chain,” Stern said.

Adi Stern of Tel Aviv University’s School of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology (courtesy, Tel Aviv University)

“We know that everyone isn’t equal in terms of how much people spread viruses, and normally there’s an assumption that 20% of people spread 80% of the virus,” she said. “But this thinking cannot explain what we’re seeing here.”

Genomic sequencing has also allowed her to estimate how many Israelis have been infected by the coronavirus. She believes it is several times higher than the number of reported cases, which stands at 16,621, but fewer than 100,000. She said this is good news, in the sense that it indicates that the lockdown worked and the spread of the virus was limited, but the downside is that “it indicates there really isn’t any herd immunity in Israel.”

The Tel Aviv University-led study was a collaboration with Emory University, the Gertner Institute, the Holon Institute of Technology, the Genome Center at the Technion Institute of Technology, and five Israeli hospitals. It focused on so-called neutral mutations of the virus.

While a much-feared mutation that could change the novel coronavirus’s behavior has not happened, there have been other mutations that did not change its conduct, and do allow scientists to trace the chain of infection. In Israel’s first major exercise to conduct genomic sequencing on the virus, Stern’s team studied genetic material from 212 Israelis, who together constitute a representative sample of the general population.

Stern said she does not know why people arriving from America were such a major source of Israel’s virus cases, but made two suggestions.

There were some much-publicized failures in enforced quarantining of new arrivals, and Stern said it may reflect poor enforcement with regard to American flights in particular.

She said that the figures may also reflect the “behavior patterns” of people who land in Israel from America.

While people landing from elsewhere are often foreign tourists who have limited contact with Israeli citizens, those arriving from America often have lots of interactions, she said. Many are Israeli citizens returning home, or Jews who live in the Diaspora and have family and social connections in Israel.

After America, coronavirus haplotypes that infected Israelis came from Belgium (8%), France (6%), England (5%), Spain (3%), Italy (2%), the Philippines (2%), Australia (2%) and Russia (2%), according to the study.

Stern said that her team will continue its genomic sequencing research, and, as it becomes more precise, expects it to yield detailed information on the rate of infection in a household, in an apartment building, in a school, in a neighborhood, and in other settings.

She hopes that the picture of how and where the virus spreads will allow authorities to effectively target their preventative measures in the case of a second wave, knowing better where to apply closures and other measures. She said: “It will allow the government to focus future lockdowns on particular areas or shut down specific types of institutions,” as well as give it information on how long such shutdowns should last.


Israel behind cyberattack that caused ‘total disarray’ at Iran port – report 

May 19, 2020

Source: Israel behind cyberattack that caused ‘total disarray’ at Iran port – report | The Times of Israel

Washington Post cites officials saying Jerusalem carried out ‘highly accurate’ hack, apparently in retaliation for Iranian attempt to target Israeli water infrastructure

The Shahid Rajaee port facility in the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas (Iran Ports and Maritime Organization)

Israel carried out a recent sophisticated cyberattack on an Iranian port facility, causing widespread chaos, apparently in retaliation for an attempt by Tehran to target Israel’s water infrastructure, the Washington Post reported Monday.

The report, citing foreign and US officials, said Israel was likely behind the hack that brought the “bustling Shahid Rajaee port terminal to an abrupt and inexplicable halt” on May 9.

“Computers that regulate the flow of vessels, trucks and goods all crashed at once, ­creating massive backups on waterways and roads leading to the facility,” the Post reported, adding that it had seen satellite photos showing miles-long traffic jams leading to the port and ships still waiting to offload several days later.

Iran later acknowledged that an unknown foreign hacker had briefly knocked the port’s computers offline.

“A recent cyber attack failed to penetrate the PMO’s systems and was only able to infiltrate and damage a number of private operating systems at the ports,”  Mohammad Rastad, managing director of the Ports and Maritime Organization, said in a statement carried by Iran’s ILNA news agency.

The port is a newly constructed shipping terminal in the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas, on the Strait of Hormuz.

But the damage was far more severe than Iran acknowledged and was apparently carried out by Israeli operatives, the Post said, quoting a security official with a foreign government that monitored the incident.

The official, who spoke on the condition that his identity and national affiliation not be revealed, called the attack “highly accurate,” the Post said.

“There was total disarray,” said the official. A US official with access to classified files also said that Israelis were believed to have been behind the attack. The officials said it was apparently carried out in retaliation for an Iranian cyberattack that targeted Israel’s water infrastructure.

There was no comment from the Israeli embassy in Washington or the Israel Defense Forces, the report said.

Israel was reportedly aghast at the Iranian attack on its water infrastructure.

A May 7 meeting of the high-level security cabinet, the first to be held in months, dealt in part with the Iranian attempt, Israeli television reported.

Quoting unnamed senior officials, Channel 13 news said on May 9 that the attack in late April was viewed as a significant escalation by Iran and a crossing of a red line because it targeted civil infrastructure.

“This is an attack that goes against all the codes of war. Even from the Iranians we didn’t expect something like this,” an official was quoted as saying.

The attack did minimal damage, though problems were reported at some facilities in local councils, the officials said.

Israel was weighing how and if to respond, the network said at the time.

According to the report, ministers who took part in the security cabinet meeting had to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Illustrative: A cybersecurity expert stands in front of a map of Iran as he speaks to journalists about the techniques of Iranian hacking, September 20, 2017, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

Earlier that day Fox News reported that Iran was behind the attack, with hackers using American servers to carry out the breach.

A senior US Department of Energy official told Fox News that the Trump administration was committed to protecting allies from cyberattacks but would not comment on the specific incident, saying an investigation was ongoing.

There was no official confirmation of the report by Israeli or US officials.

The attack took place on April 24-25 on numerous water and sewage facilities across the country, according to the Ynet news site.

The Water Authority and Israel National Cyber Directorate confirmed an “attempted cyber breach on water command and control systems.”

“The attempted attack was dealt with by the Water Authority and National Cyber Directorate. It should be emphasized that there was no harm to the water supply and it operated, and continues to operate, without interruption,” it said.

Iran — whose regime avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction — and Israel have engaged in covert cyber-warfare for over a decade, including reported efforts by the Jewish state and US to remotely sabotage the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

Israel has also in recent weeks appeared to step up a bombing campaign on Iran-linked forces in Syria, concerned at Iran’s ongoing efforts to establish a potent military presence there from which to attack Israel. The Iranian-funded and -armed Hezbollah terror group faces off against Israel from Lebanon, and Iran backs Palestinian terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Islamic Republic is smarting from one of the world’s most severe COVID-19 outbreaks. Experts have recently warned that the coronavirus pandemic has created a perfect storm for cyberattacks, with millions of people working in unfamiliar, less secure circumstances and eager for information about the virus and with new organizational policies being implemented.

Agencies contributed to this report.