Worldwide, there are numerous efforts underway to create a vaccine for COVID-19. Without one, we are likely to see some form of social distancing in place for the foreseeable future. And experts like Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, think it’ll take at least a year before we’ll have a vaccine that can be approved for public use. MigVax, an Israeli startup that’s affiliated with the Migal Galilee Research Institute, thinks it can speed up this process by quite a bit, in part, because it had already worked on building a framework for the Infectious Bronchitis Virus, a coronavirus that infects chickens, and that has proven to be safe in animals.
I think everybody is currently skeptical when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, and in Israel alone there are multiple efforts underway, but crowdfunding platform OurCrowd is putting $12 million into MigVax to help the team accelerate its efforts to develop an oral vaccine.
“The experiments we have carried out so far show that because the vaccine does not include the virus itself, it will be safe to use in immune-suppressed recipients and has fewer chances of side effects,” said David Zigdon, CEO of the Migal Galilee Research Institute. “It uses a protein vector that can form and secrete a chimeric soluble protein which carries the viral antigen into tissue and causes the production of antibodies against the virus by the immune system. We are now working to adjust our generic vaccine system to COVID-19. Using a fermentation process, MigVax aims to have the material ready for clinical trials within a few months.”
MigVax argues that its approach would offer significant advantages in manufacturing and cost because it uses bacterial fermentation to produce the vaccine, a process that’s generally well understood and commonly used today. “We are already in talks with major strategic partners able to manufacture at high volume and distribute globally,” the company tells us.
“We are humbled by the opportunity to invest in this company, which means so much to so many people,” said OurCrowd CEO Jon Medved today. “The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is about saving countless lives, and we are grateful to be able to support this important effort.”
When I last talked to Medved earlier this year, shortly before COVID-19 was officially deemed a pandemic, he was already thinking about how his existing portfolio companies could play a role in fighting the disease. No doubt, though, whoever manages to first develop a safe vaccine also stands to gain financially, and that’s not something most VC firms would turn down, so it’s no surprise that we now see funding for startups in this space, too.