Israel is only weeks away from developing a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, according to its science and technology minister.

The Jerusalem Post reported Thursday that Minister Ofir Akunis said in a press release that the vaccine could be available to patients within 90 days. Akunis credited MIGAL (the Galilee Research Institute) for the breakthrough.

“I am confident there will be further rapid progress, enabling us to provide a needed response to the grave global COVID-19 threat,” he said.

Israel got a jump on the coronavirus crisis because researchers had already created a vaccine against avian coronavirus Infectious Bronchitis Virus (IBV), which affects poultry, according to the Jewish Press. The IBV vaccine has already passed clinical trials at Israel’s Veterinary Institute.

By “pure luck,” the MIGAL team selected a poultry coronavirus to test their new vaccine technology, which doesn’t target any specific virus, according to Dr. Chen Katz, biotechnology group leader at MIGAL. Katz told the Press and Post that after the current COVID-19 virus broke out in China, the researchers studied the new virus and realized it was genetically similar to IBV and that the infection mechanism was the same. They now are confident they can adjust the system to combat COVID-19.

“In a few weeks, if it all works, we would have a vaccine to prevent coronavirus,” Katz said.

The new vaccine, which would be orally administered, faces pre-clinical trials and clinical trials before mass production begins. But MIGAL thinks development could be fast-tracked to receive safety approval in 90 days. Akunis reportedly has ordered his ministry’s director-general to accelerate the process.

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The World Health Organization reported 11 days ago that the earliest that a COVID-19 vaccine could be expected was in 18 months. If the Israeli researchers are successful in developing their vaccine, they would shave more than a year off that estimate.

For more coverage, visit our complete coronavirus section here.

Mike Moffitt is an SFGATE Digital Reporter. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Mike_at_SFGate

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