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Corona Breakthrough: Israelis Develop Powerful Antibody to Attack Virus


Researchers at the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona have discovered a significant breakthrough in the search for an antidote to the coronavirus. The researchers have developed an antibody that attacks the virus in a unique way and can even neutralize it in a patient's body. According to the institute's researchers, led by IIBR Director-General Professor Shmuel Shapira, the antibody's development phase is over. The institute will continue the patent registration process and in the next phase the researchers will contact international companies who can produce the antibody in commercial quantities. The antibody has not yet been named. Shapira noted that there has been "significant progress" in planning for a vaccine and added that preparations are now being made ahead of a model for the start of experimentation on animals, a crucial stage before trials on humans are carried out. The news came as the number of deaths worldwide from the virus topped 252,420 out of over 3,646,000 cases in 212 countries.

Study says a Mutant Coronavirus has Emerged, Even More Contagious than the Original

By the Los Angeles Times

Scientists have identified a new strain of the coronavirus that has become dominant worldwide and appears to be more contagious than the versions that spread in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study led by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The new strain appeared in February in Europe, migrated quickly to the East Coast of the United States and has been the dominant strain across the world since mid-March, the scientists wrote. In addition to spreading faster, it may make people vulnerable to a second infection after a first bout with the disease, the report warned. The 33-page report was posted on BioRxiv, a website that researchers use to share their work before it is peer reviewed, an effort to speed up collaborations with scientists working on COVID-19 vaccines or treatments. That research has been largely based on the genetic sequence of earlier strains and might not be effective against the new one. The mutation identified in the new report affects the now infamous spikes on the exterior of the coronavirus, which allow it to enter human respiratory cells. The report's authors said they felt an "urgent need for an early warning" so that vaccines and drugs under development around the world will be effective against the mutated strain. Wherever the new strain appeared, it quickly infected far more people than the earlier strains that came out of Wuhan, China, and within weeks it was the only strain that was prevalent in some nations, according to the report. The new strain's dominance over its predecessors demonstrates that it is more infectious, according to the report, though exactly why is not yet known. The report was based on a computational analysis of more than 6,000 coronavirus sequences from around the world, collected by the Global Initiative for Sharing All Influenza Data, a public-private organization in Germany. Time and again, the analysis found the new version was transitioning to become dominant. The Los Alamos team, assisted by scientists at Duke University and the University of Sheffield in England, identified 14 mutations. Those mutations occurred among the nearly 30,000 base pairs of RNA that other scientists say make up the coronavirus's genome. The report authors focused on a mutation called D614G, which is responsible for the change in the virus' spikes. "The story is worrying, as we see a mutated form of the virus very rapidly emerging, and over the month of March becoming the dominant pandemic form," study leader Bette Korber, a computational biologist at Los Alamos, wrote on her Facebook page. "When viruses with this mutation enter a population, they rapidly begin to take over the local epidemic, thus they are more transmissible." While the Los Alamos report is highly technical and dispassionate, Korber expressed some deep personal feelings about the implications of the finding in her Facebook post. "This is hard news," wrote Korber, "but please don't only be disheartened by it. Our team at LANL was able to document this mutation and its impact on transmission only because of a massive global effort of clinical people and experimental groups, who make new sequences of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) in their local communities available as quickly as they possibly can." The report contains regional breakdowns of when the new strain of virus first emerged and how long it took to become dominant. Italy was one of the first countries to see the new virus in the last week of February, almost at the same time that the original strain appeared. Washington was among the first states to get hit with the original strain in late February, but by March 15 the mutated strain dominated. New York was hit by the original virus around March 15, but within days the mutant strain took over. The team did not report results for California. Scientists at major organizations working on a vaccine or drugs have told The Times that they are pinning their hopes on initial evidence that the virus is stable and not likely to mutate the way influenza virus does, requiring a new vaccine every year. The Los Alamos report could upend that assumption. If the pandemic fails to wane seasonally as the weather warms, the study warns, the virus could undergo further mutations even as research organizations prepare the first medical treatments and vaccines. Without getting on top of the risk now, the effectiveness of vaccines could be limited. Some of the compounds in development are supposed to latch onto the spike or interrupt its action. If they were designed based on the original version of the spike, they might not be effective against the new coronavirus strain, the study's authors warned.

Report: 14 Iranians Killed after Israeli Jets hit Syrian Military Sites

By Reuters & Israel Hayom

Syrian air defenses thwarted an Israeli missile attack on a research center and a military base in the northern province of Aleppo state media said on Monday in the fifth such strike in two weeks on suspected Iranian targets. The Syrian army said in a statement that Israel hit military barracks in al Safirah in the eastern Aleppo countryside. Earlier, state television had said a research center was targeted. The army said it was now assessing the damage caused by the strikes. A regional intelligence source said Israel may be stepping up raids in Syria at a time when world attention and the region, including Syria, were distracted by the coronavirus pandemic. An IDF spokeswoman declined to comment on the report. Western intelligence sources say Iranian-backed militias have long been entrenched in Aleppo province where they have bases and a command center and installed advanced weapons, part of a growing presence across government-controlled Syria. According to Syrian state media, Israeli warplanes attacked a research center and a military base in the northern province of Aleppo in the fifth such strike in two weeks on suspected Iranian targets. A London-based Syria monitoring group said 14 people were killed in the latest incident, including Iranians. The Scientific Studies and Research Center is one of several facilities where Western intelligence and opposition sources suspect Syria with the help of Iranian researchers work on developing chemical weapons they accuse Syria of having used against civilians in rebel-held areas. Damascus and its ally Moscow deny they have used chemical weapons that have killed hundreds of civilians in the course of the nine-year conflict and blame jihadist rebels for such attacks. Israel has previously struck several military research facilities believed to have been a center for chemical and biological weapons. Israel has acknowledged in recent years it has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 where it sees Iran's presence as a strategic threat. Regional intelligence sources say Israel's escalating strikes on Syria are part of a shadow war sanctioned by Washington and part of the anti-Iran policy that has undermined in the last two years Iran's extensive military power without triggering a major escalation. Defense Minister Naftali Bennett told Israeli media last week that Israel would step up its campaign against Iran in Syria. Separately, a regional intelligence source said Israeli jets are believed to have hit Iranian-backed militias entrenched in the border town of Albukamal near the border with Iraq where Iraqi Shiite paramilitary groups have a strong foothold. The US military last January struck Iran-backed militia groups in areas in Iraq and Syria along that border area in what US officials then said was a response to escalating provocations from Iran. Iran's support alongside Russia has helped Syrian President Bashar Assad turn the tide against a military opposition that had seized large tracts of territory and sought to overthrow his authoritarian rule. The British-based war monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, later said that 14 had been killed in the airstrike. The airstrike reportedly came from the direction of Jordan and Iraq in contrast to earlier recent attacks that originated from Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

Int'l Haredi Matchmaking Continues Despite Coronavirus Outbreak

By the Jerusalem Post

A haredi man from England was able to meet his bride-to-be from Jerusalem in a special terminal in Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday in order to finalize the "shidduch" (matchmaking or organized marriage, depending on context) between the two, according to Channel 12 news. The meeting was arranged due to the issue that if the groom-to-be arrived in Israel and left the airport, he would have to enter directly into quarantine without meeting the potential wife due to coronavirus regulations. Yoel Barun, the matchmaker for the two, described the event as an "explosion of happiness." Shani Shiferman, the CEO of the Fattal private terminal where the meeting took place, helped arrange the meeting which required permits from a number of agencies and the presence of representatives from the Airport Authority, Health Ministry, Interior Ministry, Homefront Command and the Crime Prevention Unit, according to Channel 12. "The meeting between the families was very exciting and strictly followed the rules of the [haredi] community and the coronavirus," explained Shiferman to Channel 12. "After a short time, the families declared the matchmaking a success. They broke a plate for luck and there was not one dry eye in the terminal. At midnight, the family left to return home to England with joy in their hearts and a story that I am sure will continue to be told." "The families told me that they don't have the words to describe the joy that I and the staff caused them when we succeeded in [organizing] a shidduch in these days," said Barun. "The mothers said that, God willing, the entire staff of the terminal is invited to the wedding."

GOD-TV, a Messianic Network, Launches Hebrew Channel in Israel


A messianic television channel has launched in Israel, a country that bans some forms of proselytizing. GOD-TV, an international Christian media network that broadcasts in some 200 countries, began airing the Hebrew-language Shelanu channel last week on the HOT cable network. "Today we made history! For the first time ever, a Messianic television channel is broadcasting the Gospel across Israel in the Hebrew language," a statement on GOD-TV's website says. "Shelanu translates to `Ours' in Hebrew. We want every person in Israel to know, not a foreign Messiah, but a Jewish one! His name is Yeshua and He has not forgotten His people." HOT received a seven-year license to air the new channel from the Communications Ministry. Asher Biton, chairman of the ministry's Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, told Haaretz that he did not know that the new channel would engage in missionary activities and said that while religious programming is permitted, missionary programming is prohibited under the terms of its license.

More than 700,000 Israeli households subscribe to HOT, nearly 50% of the Israeli market for cable, satellite and online services. The Christian channels Daystar and Middle East Television both broadcast on Israel's YES satellite television and do not tout any proselytizing. Shelanu is being operated in partnership with the Israel-based Tikkun International, which describes itself as "a global family of ministries, congregations and leaders, dedicated to the dual restoration of Israel and the Church. We want Jewish viewers to grasp the fact that Jesus is theirs. "That He is not a foreigner, intruder or imposter," Tikkun said in an announcement of the new channel on its website. "He is their Jewish Messiah, born in Israel, raised as a Jew."

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