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BGU Alum Is a Front-runner in Race for COVID-19 Vaccine

BGU Alum Is a Front-runner in Race for COVID-19 Vaccine

June 5, 2020

Medical Research

The Algemeiner — Dr. Tal Zaks, a BGU alum who is now the chief medical officer of Moderna, one of five drug companies that the U.S. government has identified as finalists in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, expresses optimism about the chances that a vaccine will be deployed next year.

BGU Alum Dr. Tal Zaks

Dr. Zaks credits “the first-rate education that I got” at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s [Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School], but says the story of how Israel put him on his present course “actually starts [prior to medical school] from the times I was a medic in the IDF.”

Moderna’s vaccine relies on a technology using “messenger RNA,” which Dr.  Zaks describes as “the software of life.”

“We really expect this to work,” says Dr. Zaks.

He notes the firm had contracted with a manufacturer, and that in 2021, “we expect to be able to make a billion doses.”

The New York Times reported June 3 that the Cambridge, Massachusetts bio-tech company would be one of five companies chosen as part of the Trump administration’s “warp speed” project to test and deploy a vaccine that would protect against the novel coronavirus.

In mid-May, the company announced positive results of an eight-person human trial.

The U.S. federal government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority has reportedly agreed to provide $483 million to back Moderna’s vaccine development efforts.

Moderna is also testing its technology against congenital cytomegalovirus, which can cause hearing loss.

In response to a question about when it would be safe for grandparents to visit with their grandchildren, Dr. Zaks said he had planned to visit his mother in Israel for Passover, which coincided with her 80th birthday, but the visit was derailed by the pandemic.

“We Skype every weekend,” he says.

As for other drug companies competing in the effort to develop a vaccine, Dr. Zaks says, “I have only two competitors in this race — the virus and the clock.”

The phase three trial of the Moderna vaccine is scheduled to being in July, with results “hopefully by the end of the year.”

As for how long a vaccine would last, Dr. Zaks says, “we will worry about durability in 2022. If it is a problem, we just give a booster shot.”

There are more than 70 initiatives underway as part of the BGU COVID-19 Response Effort.  These each require financial support, and Americans for Ben-Gurion University has announced its commitment to raise emergency funds, enabling BGU to participate fully in the world’s efforts at mitigation and containment. Contributions can be made here.

Read more in The Algemeiner >>