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South Africa has approved clinical trials of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate designed to protect against variants of the coronavirus.

Last week, the country's Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) granted authorization to two biotechnology companies based in California, ImmunityBio and NantKwest, to begin Phase I clinical trials.

Their candidate, called the hAd5 T-cell vaccine, targets two parts of the virus: the spike (S) protein and the nucleocapsid (N) protein,

The S protein is on the outside of the virus and is more prone to mutations while the N protein is more stable and less likely to mutate.

Researchers hope the inoculation will help protect against variants like the ones that emerged in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, which have been shown to lower the efficacy of vaccines compared to the original strains.   

South Africa is beginning clinical trials of a vaccine developed by two biotechnology companies based in California. Their vaccine targets two parts of the virus: the spike protein, more prone to mutations and the nucleocapsid protein, which is less prone. Pictured: The University of Capetown, which will be conducting clinical trials 

Researchers hope this will help protect against variants of the coronavirus like those that arose in the UK, South Africa and Brazil and have spread across the U.S. (above)

'The nucleocapsid protein appears to be much more stable and therefore has a lower risk of developing mutations that could risk vaccine failure,' co-investigator Dr Graeme Meintjes, a professor of medicine at the University of Cape Town. told Quartz Africa. 

The trial's first phase, which is also being tested in the U.S., will look at whether vaccine is safe and effective and whether or not it elicits an immune response. 

Volunteers will be given two injections administered 21 days apart and eventually compared to those who received a placebo.

Like the Johnson & Johnson's vaccine, the ImmunityBio shot combines genetic material from the new virus with the genes of the adenovirus - which causes the common cold - to induce an immune response.  

ImmunityBio says its vaccine can be stored at standard refrigerators temperatures, which are different than those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

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Scientists are also testing versions of the jab that could be stored at room temperature or taken orally, which would make the vaccine easier to distribute, reported Quartz Africa.  

The trial will also examine whether the vaccine stimulates the production of T-cells and B-cells, types of white blood cells that attack against invaders and are key to immunity.

In a statement chairman and CEO of ImmunityBio Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong - a billionaire biotech entrepreneur who is also owner of the Los Angeles Times - said he is very excited about the trials.  

'We are excited about the potential of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate and the issues it could solve globally,' he said in a statement.

'Unlike antibody-based vaccines, T-cell-based vaccines kill the infected cell, preventing virus replication, and could provide long-term immune memory to recipients. 

'Pursuing a vaccine that does not rely solely on targeting the S protein where the mutations are occurring is of critical importance as multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have appeared globally, with concentrated outbreaks beginning in South Africa.' 

The daily average of vaccinations has fallen to 1.2 million per day, but it still appears President Joe Biden will reach his goal of 100 million shots in arms in the first 100 days of his term

Currently, 44.5 million people - 13.4% of the U.S. population - have received at least dose and 19.8 million - 6% of the population - have received two doses.

Also participating in the trial is Dr Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in Durban, who identified the mutation known as B1.351. 

'Our scientists...have discovered that patients who recovered from the first wave of COVID-19 may no longer be protected from the new local SARS-CoV-2 variants,' he said. 

'We are hopeful that by teaming up with ImmunityBio, the now rampant 501Y.V2 variant in our country can soon be eliminated and protected against for good.'

Currently, 44.5 million people - 13.4 percent of the U.S. population - have received at least dose and 19.8 million - six percent - have received two doses.    

Read more:
  • South Africa is testing a Covid-19 variant-proof vaccine — Quartz Africa
  • ImmunityBio Announces Phase I Trial of COVID-19 Vaccine Candidate in South Africa as New Variants of SARS-CoV-2 Spread | BioSpace

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Tags: topics index south africa and brazil he said clinical trials the university vaccine candidate the university excited researchers hope more stable south africa in south africa based vaccines in a statement million people the s protein the s protein spike protein be stored from the new the vaccine vaccine can compared

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Biden admin: International Criminal Court unfairly targeting Israel

The Biden administration opposes and is disappointed with the decision by the International Criminal Court to pursue an investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes in the Palestinian territories, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Wednesday.

Affirming U.S. support for Israel, Price said the ICC has “no jurisdiction over this matter," which he said "unfairly" targets the Jewish State.

“Israel is not a party to the ICC, and it has not consented to the court's jurisdiction and we have serious concerns about the ICC's attempts to exercise its jurisdiction over Israeli personnel,” Price said, and echoed the U.S. view that the Palestinians do not meet the qualifications for a sovereign state required for the ICC’s involvement.

The position of the Biden administration puts it in line with the policy of the former Trump administration, which criticized the ICC as “unfairly” targeting Israel.

Price further said that the Biden administration is reviewing an executive order from former President TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE that imposed sanctions on the ICC’s chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her top deputies over efforts investigating alleged war crimes by the U.S. in Afghanistan.

The sanctions, where Bensouda was added to the Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List, are typically used for terrorists and drug traffickers.

“Much as we disagree with the ICC's actions relating to the Palestinian situation, and of course to Afghanistan… we are thoroughly reviewing sanctions pursuant to Executive Order 13928, as we determine our next steps,” he said.

His remarks came in response to an announcement earlier Wednesday from Bensouda that the ICC will open an investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the Palestinian territories since June 2014 – in particular related to the summer war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and also including allegations of war crimes in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The decision to open an investigation was five years in the making as Palestinians pleaded for Israeli accountability on the international stage and Israel, along with the U.S., opposed the measures as biased and beyond the reach of the court.

Bensouda said in a statement the court was pursuing the investigation in accordance with an earlier ruling that was “unanimous in its view that Palestine is a State Party to the Rome Statute,” the agreement that governs the countries where the ICC has jurisdiction.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision by the ICC, saying in a statement that “this is a long-awaited step that serves Palestine’s tireless pursuit of justice and accountability, which are indispensable pillars of the peace the Palestinian people seek and deserve.”

But it was rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, calling the announcement “absurd.”

“It's undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy,” he tweeted. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:
"The decision of the International Court to open an investigation against Israel today for war crimes is absurd. It's undiluted antisemitism and the height of hypocrisy.

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) March 3, 2021

The Israeli ambassador to the United States and United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said that Israel would “continue working together with the American administration against this shameful decision.”

In May, Republican and Democratic lawmakers had urged the former Trump administration to defend Israel from the probe, saying the ICC has no jurisdiction in Israel or the Palestinian territories. 

Tags Benjamin Netanyahu Donald Trump Israel International Criminal Court Gaza Strip

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