ISRAEL – Sheba Medical Center, the largest hospital in Israel, has entered into a strategic scientific collaboration with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) aimed at identifying emerging disease threats in the region amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

They are set to conduct joint research into regional emerging disease threats through the Sheba Pandemic Research Institute (SPRI), a first-of-its-kind partnership between Israel and NIH.

In a press release, Health Policy Watch announced that SPRI, primarily funded by Sheba with support from Israel’s Health Ministry, will focus on basic science and clinical research on emerging pathogens and the host response.

The statement reads: “Through multidisciplinary, multifaceted, and collaborative research, NIH hopes to translate basic science research into infectious diseases into clinical products. These biological countermeasures would be rapidly deployable in the event of epidemic and pandemic threats in the region.”

In addition, Sheba doctors are expected to go to the US-based NIH for training. At the same time, NIH staff will travel to Sheba to help them set up their laboratories and learn from the medics in a collective effort to bolster pandemic preparedness in the region.

The Sheba Pandemic Research Institute will also create a unique platform for Sheba and NIH to collaborate with Palestinian hospitals and physicians in research on disease threats that cross political and geographic borders.

One of the first projects planned will be a study examining the impacts on antibody defenses amongst travelers from Israel or Palestine to Mecca to observe the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage,” Health Policy Watch reported.

According to the digital platform for independent reporting on top global health research, the NIH and Israeli teams will be working with Palestinian scientists affiliated with institutions in the Palestinian territories.

The first SPRI study aims to create a profile of antibody responses from the worldwide gathering that brought together 2.5 million people in 2019, before the COVID pandemic, and 1 million in 2022, as travel began to rebound from pandemic lockdowns.

In Israel, the centre will be run by Prof Gili Regev-Yochay, Head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center, and a scientist who was at the forefront of Israel’s 2020-21 COVID pandemic response and vaccine roll-out,” the digital platform informed.

During the project launch, Prof. Regev-Yochay said that SPRI is being established despite the decline in COVID-19 incidence in most parts of the world, to be better prepared for the next pandemic, whenever and whatever that may be.

 She further stressed the importance of fostering scientific cooperation on diseases that transverse geographic and political borders.

The goal is to have gained enough know-how to take quicker and more effective action next time a deadly pathogen begins circling in the community,” Regev-Yochay added.

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