Israeli Innovation, International Partnerships and Coronavirus: An Update

Dr. Abd Al-Roof Higazi and Lab Manager Suhair Abdeen at Hadassah University Medical Center have made important discoveries that may improve coronavirus treatment (Credit: Israel21c).

As AIJAC has previously reported (see here and here), Israel has responded to the coronavirus as it has responded to other past crises, with innovation.

While the current number of new cases in Israel continues to grow, and the second wave of the pandemic is not yet contained, the start-up nation has used its hi-tech nous to push for continuous improvement.

Thus, when the Jerusalem Post, in collaboration with the UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange, launched the COVID-19 Innovation Report which ranks the top performing countries in the fight against the virus, Israel came out second overall, behind the US. The algorithm used in the study takes into account the number of innovations as well as the potential impacts.

International Partnerships

Israel is not withholding its discoveries and newly developed technologies from the rest of the world. It is currently engaged in a number of partnerships around the globe.

Yoel Hareven, the director of the international division and resource development at Sheba Medical Centre- the largest hospital in Israel, said the hospital is working with Indonesian businesspeople who are interested in learning how to incorporate telemedicine and other Israeli medical innovations to fight the coronavirus.

Israel has developed lifesaving telemedical technologies such as the AI-based tele-ICU that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning models to predict respiratory disruptions. The analytics platform, CLEW-ICU, is currently being used at the Sheba Medical Centre and the Ichilov Hospital at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre. By predicting potential respiratory problems, healthcare workers are able to make early interventions that may alter clinical outcomes. Additionally, CLEW-ICU allows healthcare workers to monitor patients from a remote command centre which decreases the risk of exposure.

“We are mainly speaking about the technologies that we are using here at Sheba in Israel to protect our staff and not expose them to sick people,” said Hareven.

Israel and Indonesia, home to the world’s largest number of Muslims, have no formal diplomatic ties.

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu also recently announced new private-public partnerships between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to combat the virus. On July 2, an agreement was reached between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Abu Dhabi based technology company Group 42 (G42). A virtual agreement was also signed between G42 and Israeli defence technology company Rafael.

In a company statement, CEO of G42 Peng Xiao said, “At G42 we have always embraced international cooperation as a way to create better and more effective technologies for the public good. The UAE leadership has long advocated for a global collaborative effort to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, and we are privileged to follow the lead and share our resources and expertise with Rafael and IAI for such a significant cause.”

The three companies will collaborate on research and development efforts to create solutions to combat the coronavirus. Israel also has no formal diplomatic ties with any of the Arab Gulf States, although unofficial relations have reportedly blossomed in recent years.

Israel’s corona cooperation also extends to South Asia. On July 26 a 20-person team of senior officials from Israel’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (Hebrew abbreviation MAFAT) was supposed to depart to India to test a variety of COVID-19 technologies, but after a key member of the team was exposed to the coronavirus, the trip was postponed. The trip will be led by Israeli Ambassador to India Ron Malka and Military Attaché to India Col. Asaf Meller.

The trip is the result of several months of Israeli-Indian scientific cooperation.

The team is bringing technology used to detect the virus using soundwaves as well as machinery that can test patients for terahertz radiation, isothermic radiation, and polyamino acid. Israeli scientists believe that these four properties may offer early indicators of the coronavirus.

The Israeli corona team needs a large number of confirmed coronavirus patients to test the technology on, which would be very difficult to do in Israel, so are happy to make major progress in India. If successful, these tests could accurately detect coronavirus infections in a matter of minutes.

Additionally, the delegation will be bringing sanitisation equipment and ventilators.

The Indian government has enlisted the help of 100 healthcare professionals to assist the elite team of Israeli doctors and ministers with the testing and has commissioned the construction of numerous testing zones.

“The entire Defense Ministry is mobilized to fight the coronavirus,” said Defence Minister and alternative PM Benny Gantz. “We hope that the strenuous research and development led by MAFAT, together with our excellent academia and industries, will lead to a breakthrough that will change the way we diagnose and fight the virus.”

Israeli Innovations

Israel has developed numerous technologies and products to counter the pandemic in the months since AIJAC’s Ahron Shapiro and Naomi Levin wrote about how the start-up nation is using technology to fight the virus in April.  Below is a list of some of the most promising innovations and discoveries by Israeli scientists, doctors, and entrepreneurs:

  • Trackvirus: One of the world’s first contact tracing apps. Developed by emergency healthcare response organisation United Hatzalah, Trackvirus has the ability to get people into quarantine after they are exposed to the virus to a stop a widespread contamination.
  • Zebra Medical Vision: Artificial intelligence that provides accelerated and accurate medical image diagnosis to identify disease severity and enable doctors to provide the most effective care. The AI platform has already received five U.S. Federal Drug Administration clearances and has been named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative healthcare companies in 2020.
  • Newsight Imaging: A small device that can identify and classify the virus in a matter of seconds by taking a sample of blood and saliva. The microchip is artificial intelligence ready and is significantly cheaper and more portable than its competitors. The device has already received the Sheba Medical Centre’s ethics committee’s approval and is waiting on FDA approval.
  • Improved Antibody Tests: Researchers at the Tel Aviv University have created a serological test that can identify all three antibodies of the coronavirus with 98-99% accuracy.
  • Improved Testing: AID Genomics has developed a 30-minute COVID test that can process an entire plane full of passengers in less than 75 minutes. AID Genomics’ test kit is cheaper than competing “express services” and is also waiting on FDA approval.
  • New Discoveries with Existing Drugs: Hebrew University Professor Yaakov Nahmias and Dr. Benjamin tenOever at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Centre have discovered that the anti-cholesterol drug fenofibrate may downgrade the symptoms of coronavirus. The drug may target the symptoms and reduce them to those of a common cold.
  • Crowdsourcing COVID Data: Researchers at the Technion Institute of Technology have launched a campaign to gather breathing data on COVID patients from around the world to build a new at-home health care platform that could spot warning signs of a deteriorating condition in patients not in hospitals. The algorithm would allow doctors to monitor their patients’ health care without putting stress on already crowded hospitals.
  • New Discoveries with Blood Clots and Patients in Critical Condition: Abd Al-Roof Higazi, head of the Division of Laboratories and Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Hadassah University Medical Centre in Jerusalem, found that the sicker patients had a higher concentration of a certain peptide, a combination of amino acids, that encourages blood clots, a key cause of death in COVID-19 patients. This discovery has provided lifesaving information to doctors in hospitals. Dr. Higazi and his associates are testing a medicine that treats Mediterranean fever that has been proven to reduce the risk of blood clots in mice. If successful in humans, this could vastly reduce the number of patients in critical care who need respirators.
  • COVID-immunity Passport: Herzliya based Pangea has created a biometric smart card that may enable countries to reopen airports and tourism while also protecting the health of the public. Pangea’s Pass Card would allow governments to grant tourists who have already had the virus and are now immune access to airports and planes using the card’s microchip which would be securely connected to the resident’s home country COVID-19 profile and database. The Pass Card would require the cooperation of airlines, airports, tourism and health ministries, hospitals, and insurance companies.

While Israel’s second wave of the coronavirus has surpassed the magnitude of the first wave, it’s still contributing to lifesaving innovations in the battle against the worldwide pandemic.