The Coronavirus pandemic is forcing us all to confront the relative lack of anti-viral treatments that humanity has in its armamentarium. At the Weizmann Institute of Science, we confront this situation by harnessing innovative basic research for the development of novel technologies for the benefit of society. Together with Weizmann scientists, YEDA Ltd, the Institute's commercialization arm, is transforming academic research into drugs and public health technologies that may prevent future viral threats from causing upheaval similar to the disruption that our world is facing today. Below are a few inspiring examples from a variety of research fields. 

Developing a universal-influenza vaccine

Seminal work by Prof. Ruth Arnon has led to the development of a universal-flu vaccine by relying on conserved epitopes for influenza immunization. A combination of these epitopes, which are common to most flu strains, has the potential to provide multi-season and multi-strain protection against known and unknown human influenza strains. BiondVax is a company based on Prof. Arnon’s work that is currently conducting advanced clinical studies aimed at proving the efficacy of this coveted universal vaccine.

In Silico design of novel and effective vaccines

Prof. Sarel Fleishman develops cutting-edge computational design tools that rely on evolutionary conservation and atomistic understanding, to construct various proteins and vaccines. These tools have been used by numerous groups around the world for the design of novel vaccines exhibiting enhanced stability and immunogenicity. 

Developing anti-viral bait molecules

Prof. Ron Diskin has developed a decoy molecule that has the potential to treat patients infected by a range of arenaviruses, a family of exotic viruses which lurk in animal populations. Viral binding to these decoys (a mimicry molecule of a cell protein) leads to a dead-end for the virus. This clever development could lead to a drug that will prevent the next a prospective pandemic. 

Protecting tissue microenvironments as a preventive and therapeutic strategy

Profs. Irit Sagi and Ido Amit discovered that viral infection challenges lung tissue integrity and prime it for secondary pathogen infection. This is dependent on the action of a host tissue remodeling enzyme, which digests the lung during influenza infection. The two researchers further demonstrated that inhibition of this enzyme with a biological drug developed in Prof. Sagi's lab averted this dreaded post-flu deterioration, thus preventing suffering and saving lives.

A Collaborative Effort

Preparing for future viral threats is a collaborative effort. It is a large-scale, multi-disciplinary endeavor that encompasses the Weizmann Institute's leading researchers and Yeda's cutting-edge commercialization practices. The ultimate goal is to enrich humanity's anti-viral arsenal, in order to protect our societies – regardless of geographic boundaries. 

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020