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Weizmannn coronavirus response


Date: April 30, 2020
Weizmann Magazine Vol. 17

As we find ourselves—all of humanity—in the midst of a pandemic caused by the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2, the Weizmann Institute of Science is advancing major research efforts and other initiatives to address this challenge: more than 50 projects are now underway.

The new coronavirus is a global health threat that is unprecedented in any of our lifetimes. The Weizmann Institute, with its world-renown in immunology, structural biology, computational science and artificial intelligence, cellular sequencing, and drug discovery, is poised to make key breakthroughs at this critical time.
In this section, you may read a sampling or our efforts, focusing in three main directions: ramping up testing capacity, tracking outbreaks in the making, and advancing promising research initiatives toward treatments and potential vaccines.

Ramping up testing
The Nancy and Stephen Grand Center for Personalized Medicine (G-INCPM) on campus has been transformed into a center for the rapid production of diagnostic tests, in coordination with Israel’s Ministry of Health. This move has enabled a multi-fold rise in the number of tests produced and Prof. Robert Fluhr is heading this effort. The G-INCPM is home to the country’s most comprehensive and advanced infrastructure for genomic and proteomic analysis, making it a vital resource for Israel’s scientific and medical community as they seek to create new coronavirus testing approaches.

In parallel, an effort by Profs. Eran Elinav and Ido Amit is underway to develop a new testing method based on a process that involves fewer stages compared to existing tests, vastly expands the number of samples that can be tested at a time, and offers a method that greatly reduces the biological risk to which the teams that perform the tests are exposed. The Weizmann scientists expect to have the capacity to test about 20,000 samples per day.

A model to sustain economic activity
As the state of the economy becomes an increasing source of concern, Prof. Uri Alon and his graduate students Omer Karin and Yael Korem-Kohanim, together with senior engineer Boaz Dudovich of Applied Materials, have developed an epidemiological model that shows how it is possible to enact a nationwide policy to effectively suppress the coronavirus and at the same time allow sustainable, albeit reduced, economic activity. The model is based on the mathematics of an intermittent lockdown: five days of lockdown and two days of work every week. In this way, the virus replication number—the number of people infected by each contagious carrier—drops below 1: the magic number that would lead to a decline in the epidemic.
A four-day work/ten-day lockdown strategy is even better, they suggest, allowing those infected at work to cease becoming infectious at home. Prof. Alon suggests that after several such cycles, the number of infected people will drop dramatically. The epidemic can be contained until sufficient testing, effective treatment, or a vaccine is developed, which would negate the need for a lockdown.

The Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund
The Institute has established the Weizmann Coronavirus Response Fund, which will enable Institute leadership to urgently disseminate support to its scientists working on the front lines to find solutions, and to support unique science education initiatives to address the demand for online distance learning.
The Response Fund aims to raise approximately $25 million for the urgent allocation of support. More than 50 projects across campus are underway. A sampling of our other efforts are described in this special section, including:

Searches for the perfect drug or vaccine, such as the projects underway by Prof. Sarel Fleishman, Dr. Ron Diskin, and Dr. Nir London
An effort spearhead by Profs. Eran Segal and Benjamin Geiger is tracking geographic clusters in which the coronavirus is prevalent and will likely spread.
The Davidson Institute of Science Education at Weizmann launched a new website called Stuck at Home? which offers a suite of digital science activities at a time when students, teachers, and parents are in need of quality distance-learning content.