This story is to help Israeli media and the world celebrate the Israeli Scientists TM geniuses who save the world while doing good business: Yaakov Nahmias, Shulamit Levenberg and Yaky Yanay.
My readers might dimly recall the Israeli biotech startup Pluristem, which in early 2020 announced in national news to have saved the lives of several Israeli patients dying from COVID-19, with their proprietary therapy of “mesenchymal stem cells”, which were derived from discarded human placentas.
Pluristem’s regenerative medicine technology of “stem cell” injections was originally marketed to the Israeli and US defence ministries as well as to NASA, for saving the the people of Israel from a nuclear attack, or to the very least, astronauts from space radiation. The placenta-derived woo didn’t make much sense back then, but when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the repurposed technology was quickly tested on coronavirus patients under compassionate use and declared a resounding success.
The German medical university Charité was eager to announce a collaboration, Pluristem’s cure arrived to be tested in Berlin. COVID-19 was about to be vanquished, thanks to Pluristem’s stem cell miracle technology, and you, humble reader, could be part of it by buying Pluristem’s stock (PSTI) traded on NASDAQ since around the early 2020 announcement.
But geniuses, especially Israeli male geniuses, never rest on their laurels. Saving the world once is not enough! So Pluristem decided to save the world again, this time from the climate change catastrophe. After all, meat industry is one of big carbon emitters.
Jerusalem Post proudly informs:
“Pluristem Therapeutics, a leading Israeli biotechnology company, and Tnuva Group, Israel’s largest food producer, launched on Monday an innovative collaboration to develop and manufacture cultured cell-based products for the food industry.
The new company will use Pluristem’s proprietary technology and knowhow in the field of cultured meat. Tnuva will invest $7.5 million according to a valuation of $40 million, with the option to invest up to an additional $7.5 million over a period of 12 months following the closing. Tnuva will also provide the R&D platform to develop consumer products and will receive preferred marketing rights in Israel of any new products.
Pluristem has developed a proprietary 3D platform that produces high-quality cells in a cost-effective manner. The goal is to launch the first raw cultured meat product in 2023.”
For reasons beyond my comprehension, Jerusalem Post forgot to mention how Pluristem solved COVID-19 in 2020 using same cell culture technology. Which is even more puzzling given that it was Jerusalem Post who originally announced Pluristem’s miracle cure of 3 dying COVID-19 patients in March 2020. Professional science journalism is really something I will never be able to learn.
The new January 2022 article however mentions:
“Pluristem specializes in regenerative medicine therapies, notably cell therapies, that treat inflammation, ischemia, ulcers, muscle trauma, blood disorders and radiation poisoning. Ischemia is a condition where sufficient blood is prevented from reaching a part of the body, be it a limb or an organ. The committee said that the Phase III study is unlikely to meet its primary endpoints.”
You can admire the list of those tanked clinical trials here. Again, the esteemed expert science journalists at Jerusalem Post forgot this 2 week-old announcement, about Pluristem’s COVID-19 clinical trial failures with their placenta “stem cells”:
“PSTI announced top-line data from two phase II dose escalation studies evaluating the safety and efficacy of its intramuscular injections of PLX-PAD cells in comparison with placebo for the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) associated with COVID-19.
Both the studies did not meet the primary endpoint of statistically significant improvement of ventilator free days (VFD) at 28 days.
The data is based on the evaluation of a total of 89 patients enrolled in both the studies. While one study enrolled patients in the United States (the “U.S. Study”), the other one enrolled patients in Europe and Israel (the “EU Study”). […]
Please note that Pluristem planned to initially enroll a total of 180 participants in both the studies.”
The trials NCT04614025 and NCT04389450 were done together with Charité Berlin and University of California Irvine, respectively. Both trials went tits-up, predictably, which predictably dampened Pluristem’s stock. Nobody wants to talk about that failed breakthrough anymore. It never happened, let’s talk about lab-grown sausages instead.
Also the expert professional science journalists at Times of Israel completely forgot about Pluristem’s failed COVID-19 clinical trials while excitedly reporting about Pluristem’s plans for lab grown meat, quoting its founder and CEO Yaky Yanay:
““We have a key competitive advantage in developing very advanced products and manufacturing them at scale,” said Yanay. Pluristem’s placenta-based cell therapy, PLX, has been used in a range of therapeutic proteins designed to trigger the body’s regeneration mechanism in response to conditions such as high levels of inflammation, muscle trauma, hematological deficiencies, and radiation damage.”
The Israeli food giant Tnuva, majority owned by Chinese conglomerate Bright Foods, gave Pluristem $7.5 million and secured the rights on their stem cell burgers and kebabs.
Now even I must now admit that Pluristem’s new business orientation is truly a genius move. At least all those stem cells from the failed clinical trials can be now used to make a sausage.
It is not exactly clear, to me at least what the whole point of lab-grown meat is. Sure there is a novelty effect there, but beyond that?
The actual target audience are not vegans and vegetarians, but meat eaters with guilty consciousness. The idea must be that science can surely recreate beef steaks, pork chops and chicken breasts in the Petri dish, because after all, hasn’t science successfully grown entire human organs in the lab? Remember the great successes of Anthony Atala, Harald Ott, Doris Taylor, Martin Birchall and of course, Paolo Macchiarini?
If scientists could grow entire working bladders, legs, hearts and tracheas in the lab, and even occasionally transplant those into human patients, according to all international media coverage at that time with the most tremendous of successes, surely science can create a piece of meat in a cell culture bioreactor which tastes exactly like one freshly chopped off a dead animal? I hope you notice me being sarcastic, but I do think this unconditional science worshipping is the reason why a “stem cell” company like Pluristem can successfully switch raising money from human therapies to cultured sausages.
Again, what do I know. I am the troll constantly poo-pooing the media-celebrated successes of regenerative medicine. But I do have the sneaking suspicion that while the food industry has created a huge and extremely successful market of vegan meat Ersatz made of plant and fungi protein, all this lab-grown meat hype is not going anywhere at all, certainly not restaurant dishes or supermarket shelves. Not only because their product most likely tastes of nothing. Just because you press a clump of cultured cow cells into a burger patty doesn’t mean it will taste like a burger. It could also taste like a squashed earthworm.
After all, there is a factor of costs, which is probably why lab grown meat isn’t yet even available as a novelty product for bachelor parties. Despite all the promises, cell culture is an expensive business, suitable to make medicines but completely prohibitive to generate food. And that is the actual money investment, nobody has ever considered the carbon footprint of a lab-grown sausage.
By the way, remember how Richard Dawkins was excited about the promise of lab grown meat (announced to enter supermarket shelves in 2018) because one could then safely and ethically eat HUMAN FLESH?
Times of Israel, not shy on Lab Grown Meat pride, has other Israeli geniuses to celebrate:
“Israel is home to a number of prominent food tech startups in the cultured meat sector globally, most notably Future Meat, a biotechnology firm that creates chicken, lamb, and beef products from animal cells and recently raised $347 million to launch a production facility in the US, and Aleph Farms, a food tech startup that was the first to unveil a cultivated steak in 2018 and a cultivated ribeye cut in 2021. Aleph Farms raised a $105 million investment last year that included funding by US actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio. Both companies have multinational food companies as backers.
The technologies behind Aleph Farms and Future Meat are based on bioengineering research developed by their respective co-founders, Prof. Shulamit Levenberg of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and Prof. Yaakov Nahmias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Both are prominent academics in the tissue engineering field.”
As it happens, the Future Meat (“Delicious. Healthy. Sustainable.“) founder and Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Yaakov Nahmias, like his Pluristem colleagues, also invented a COVID-19 cure. In Nahmias’ case, it was the cholesterol drug fenofibrate (read here).
Nahmias namely invented an “Tissue Dynamics organ-on-a-chip” thingy to seed cells on and to pose for cameras with, preferably with an admiring random male lab member (I found at least three such arrangements).
The chip was deployed in early 2020 to postulate fenofibrate as a cure for viral infections, including of course SARS-CoV2. As Nahmias previously explained the dietary logic behind his COVID-19 cure:
“Virus infection causes the lung cells to start building up fat, and fenofibrate allows the cells to burn it.“
In this regard, there was a much celebrated SSRN manuscript submitted in July 2020 to Cell Metabolism:
Avner Ehrlich , Skyler Uhl , Konstantinos Ioannidis , Matan Hofree , Benjamin R. TenOever , Yaakov Nahmias, The SARS-CoV-2 Transcriptional Metabolic Signature in Lung Epithelium. SSRN (2020) doi: 10.2139/ssrn.3650499
It seems, the preprint was peer reviewed, yet not accepted for publication, not in Cell Metabolism or any other peer reviewed journal since. In fact, this is what the study’s listed co-author, the Mount Sinai virologist Benjamin TenOever, told me about his collaboration with Yaakov “Koby” Nahmias:
Well, never mind the hamsters. The breathless reporting, especially on Fox News, reporting sufficed to raise the money for Nahmias’ fenofibrate cure. The Hebrew University professor went for a phase 3 clinical trial with 50 patients straight away. The trial is funded by the pharma giant Abbot, in this regard the Israeli Foreign Ministry proudly announced in December 2020:
“The study began in July 2020 when Professor Nahmias demonstrated that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was inhibiting the effective breakdown of fat within the lungs. His research then identified the efficacy of Fenofibrate (Tricor), an FDA approved drug that has been on the market since 1975 to address this deficiency in Corona patients. […]
The results were abundantly clear. Patients who were taking the drugs to speed up the breakdown of fats were recovering from the Corona-caused lung infections in a matter of days. The evidence even showed that there was zero mortality among these patients.
“We showed that the human lungs responded to the SARS-CoV-2 virus by completely changing their metabolism, causing a major buildup of fats in lung cells. Our findings show that this unhealthy fat buildup is a critical factor in COVID-19 patient’s deterioration. Patients taking fibrates that work directly to breakdown fats recovered fast from the disease, while those taking medications that build fats like thiazolidinediones, showed greater lung damage and mortality,” Professor Nahmias explains. “
When the results of a clinical trial are predetermined in advance, by the nation’s government no less, Nahmias could not disappoint. As the Jerusalem Post reported in August 2021, his “$15 drug gets COVID patients off oxygen support in under week“:
“Fourteen out of 15 severe COVID-19 patients who were treated in an investigator-initiated interventional open-label clinical study of the drug TriCor (fenofibrate) didn’t require oxygen support within a week of treatment and were released from the hospital, according to the results of a new Hebrew University of Jerusalem study. […]
The 15 treated patients all had pneumonia and required oxygen support. They were also older with multiple comorbidities, ranging from diabetes and obesity to high blood pressure.In addition to standard of care, the patients were given 145 mg/day of fenofibrate for 10 days.“The results were dramatic,” Nahmias told The Jerusalem Post. “Progressive inflammation markers, which are the hallmark of deteriorative COVID-19, dropped within 48 hours of treatment. Moreover, 14 of the 15 severe patients didn’t require oxygen support within a week of treatment.” The 15th patient was off oxygen within 10 days.”
This was the study:
Yaakov Nahmias , Avner Ehrlich , Konstantinos Ioannidis , Makram Nasar , Ismaeel Abu Alkian , Matan Hofree , Sigal Shafran Tikva , Nir Rainy , Inbal Houri , Arrigo Cicero , Chiara Pavanello , Cesare Sirtori , Jordana Cohen , Julio Chirinos , Lisa Deutsch , Amichai Gottlieb , Oren Shibolet , Shlomo Maayan Metabolic Regulation of SARS-CoV-2 Infection Research Square Platform LLC (2021) doi: 10.21203/rs.3.rs-770724/v1
Now, in January 2022, we can read on Research Square: “This preprint is under consideration at a Nature Portfolio Journal.” It will probably remain in this state for all eternity, like the previous preprint.
Maybe the reviewers at that Nature Portfolio Journal got confused about where the other 35 patients of that NCT04661930 clinical trial go. It used to be 50 participants, not 15. Maybe they went out for a vegan kebab and never returned? Of course even the nutcase antivaxxer Robert Malone shared the discovery on Twitter, back in August 2021.
There wasn’t a control arm in that clinical trial, the scientists simply “matched” fenofibrate participants to some patients treated for COVID-19 elsewhere. The “standard care” was not clearly defined either, one can read it included remdesivir, dexamethasone, convalescent plasma and even vitamin D:
“Participants who met the inclusion criteria were assigned to intervention with nanocrystallized fenofibrate (TriCor®, AbbVie Inc., North Chicago, IL USA) at a dose of 145 mg (1 tablet) once per day. Standard care for severe-hospitalize COVID-19 patients was provided according to local practice: antiviral treatment, vitamin D3, low-dose glucocorticoids, convalescent plasma, and supportive care (Figure 6A) as well as anti-pyretics for symptoms of fever (products containing paracetamol, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin and ibuprofen) and dextromethorphan for symptoms of cough. Standard chronic treatments were continued unless COVID-19, clinical status, or fenofibrate treatment was a counterindication for the treatment. Control patients were collected from the observational study’s database and filtered to patients that meet the inclusion criteria, admitted with low immunoinflammatory stress (NLR<10 at admission), and treated according to the standard care used in the interventional study.”
It was a mess of a clinical trial, I am puzzled why Abbot allowed it to happen in the first place. Did they really expect a COVID-19 emergency use authorisation for fenofibrate based on that cock-up?
But don’t worry, the Jerusalem Post reassured in August 2021:
“The professor is now involved with a series of Phase III studies being carried out in South America, the United States and Israel. Those studies are placebo-controlled and double-blind.”
Good luck. The phase 2 trial FERMIN with 700 patients (NCT04517396) sponsored by University of Pennsylvania is “Enrolling by invitation” since August 2020. It seems they are about to recruit merely 40 participants, so in October 2021 the university registered an observation trial (NCT05080192) with those “who were randomized to the Fenofibrate arm in the FERMIN trial“, 20 for each trial arm.
Nahmias’ miracle cure for COVID-19 hasn’t featured in the news since last August. Maybe this is why he now focuses on lab-grown meat.
A Feast for the Eyes
Now, there is a point about lab-grown meat marketing I would like to briefly raise. It’s those yummy (not for me, I’m vegetarian) pictures of burgers, sausages, steaks and kebabs showing the magic power of lab-grown meat technology. Those more honest lab-meat entrepreneurs admit their “representative” pictures to be stock photos of actual meat, meant to illustrate the hypothetical promise of their lab technology. But Nahmias’s company provides journalists with this below, claiming it is indeed a picture of Future Meat product:
It is either real meat from real dead animals, or a “fake meat” of the kind they use in professional food photography. The inedible kind.
Now, how trustworthy would you deem someone who claims this chicken shashlik is actually made from his company’s lab-grown meat?
Is Professor Nahmias bullshitting investors while actually instagramming his dinners at Israeli grill restaurants? It sure looks like this. Will his Future Foods post a picture of a whole fried chicken?
Others are not better. Look what the other Israeli lab-meat company you met above, Aleph Farms (“Meat For Earth. Steak done right.“), advertises with:
Steak in Space
The German meat industry magazine, bluntly named Fleischindustrie, announced a year ago that there will soon be 3D bioprinted steaks made with stem cell technology:
“Aleph Farms has in cooperation with the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology, successfully cultivated the world’s first slaughter-free ribeye steak, using three-dimensional (3D) bioprinting technology and natural building blocks of meat — real cow cells, without genetic engineering and immortalization.
The proof-of-concept incorporates real muscle, fat, and vascular-like system similar to a ribeye from a slaughtered cow, in strategy to build a diverse portfolio of cultivated meat cuts of any dimension. With this proprietary technology developed just two short years after the company unveiled the world’s first cultivated thin-cut steak in 2018 which did not utilize 3D bioprinting, they now have the ability to produce any type of steak and plan to expand the portfolio of quality meat products. […]
With the realization of this milestone, we have broken the barriers to introducing new levels of variety into the cultivated meat cuts we can now produce. As we look into the future of 3D bioprinting, the opportunities are endless,” says Technion Professor Shulamit Levenberg, the Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Advisor.”
The 3D bioprinting technology is provided by the Russian company aptly named 3D Bioprinting Solutions, the method is described as “Magnetic levitational bioassembly“. Hardly surprising: for the last 5 years or more, the company, which main business is to sell Russian-made 3D bioprinter devices Fabion and Fabion 2 (you must believe these work), has been announcing to bioprint various human organs for transplants. In 2016 they even claimed to have “successfully” bioprinted and transplanted a mouse thymus. In Russia, the bullshit competition is tough.
In 2019, Aleph Pharms and their Moscow partners announced to have bioprinted a tiny steak on the space flight to ISS. Already a year before, in 2018, the Russians tried to bioprint organs (Parfenov et al Science Advances 2020) to “advance space life science and space regenerative medicine“in zero gravity. So why not using same method to bioprint a steak, if someone pays? Aleph Farms’ advertised idea is that there is a market for astronauts and kosmonauts to bioprint their daily dinner in space. And should any of their own organs fail in space, they will be able to use the Russian printer and Dr Levenberg’s regenerative medicine technology to 3D-bioprint a new kidney, liver or heart.
The Technion scientist behind Aleph Farms, the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering dean Shulamit Levenberg, is a genius who will solve all world’s problems, in space and on Earth. Climate change, transplant organ shortage, all diseases. Dr Levenberg is a celebrity:
“She was named a “Research Leader” in tissue engineering by Scientific American, for her seminal work on vascularization of engineered tissues. She was recently profiled in the BBC documentary film “The Earthshot Prize” by Prince William and Sir David Attenborough. The contribution of her research to world’s sustainability was recognized by many organisations including UNESCO.”
The inventor of 3D bioprinted rib-eye steak uses the exact same technology to make prosthetic ears for humans, as Technion announced in December 2021:
“The researchers applied new technologies for tissue engineering, developed in Prof. Levenberg’s lab under the leadership of Dr. Shira Landau, to fabricate a biodegradable auricle scaffold that formed stable, custom-made neocartilage implants.
The unique scaffold is 3D-printed and based on a CT scan. It is biodegradable and forms chondrocytes — the cells responsible for cartilage formation — and mesenchymal stem cells. The scaffold has pores of varying sizes, allowing for cell attachment to form stable cartilage.”
I hope Dr Levenberg won’t accidentally suture a rib-eye steak onto one of her patients. Or eat an ear.
Of course the beret-wearing Dr Levenberg also fights on COVID-19 front. She hasn’t blessed us with a 3D-bioprinted cure yet (maybe a lab-grown lung for transplant?), but she and her other company NanoSynthex announced to provide COVID-19 diagnostic tests:
“The kit consists of an antibody detection test, or serological test, conducted on blood extracted from a finger prick, and an antigen detection test taken with a nasal swab. The antibody test determines the presence of COVID-19 antibodies, while the antigen test detects fragments of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Both tests have been proven effective with sensitivity and specificity in excess of 90 percent, and obtain results in 15 minutes. The kit is approved in Europe and pending approval by Israel’s drug and medical regulators.”
That was a year ago, today the company’s site has no products to sell, certainly not for the coronavirus. Just some future plans for a bacterial testing platform.
Never mind. The never-resting head of Technion’s Stem Cell and Tissue engineering lab announced in autumn 2021 to cure Type 2 diabetes with injections of genetically engineered cells.
Knowridge Science Report informed us, under the modest headline “Scientists find a cure for type 2 diabetes”:
“In their study, the team isolated muscle cells from mice and engineered these cells to present more insulin-activated sugar transporters (GLUT4). These cells were then grown to form engineered muscle tissue and finally transported back into the abdomen of diabetic mice.
The engineered cells not only proceeded to absorb sugar correctly, improving blood sugar levels but also induced improved absorption in the mice’s other muscle cells, by means of signals sent between them. After this one treatment, the mice remained cured of diabetes for four months – the entire period they remained under observation.”
This was the study, the diabetes therapy has been patented by the authors:
Margarita Beckerman, Chava Harel, Inbal Michael, Amira Klip, Philip J. Bilan, Emily J. Gallagher, Derek LeRoith, Eli C. Lewis, Eddy Karnieli, and Shulamit Levenberg GLUT4-overexpressing engineered muscle constructs as a therapeutic platform to normalize glycemia in diabetic mice Science Advances (2021) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abg3947
In a press release by American Technion Society, modestly titled “A Cure for Diabetes?“, Levenberg was quoted:
“By taking cells from the patient and treating them, we eliminate the risk of rejection,” Prof. Levenberg explained. These cells can easily integrate back into being part of the body and respond to the body’s signalling activity.”
That transgenic approach to diabetes, i.e. if it ever worked in mice as described, it is neither new nor actually safe or practicable in the clinic. Who cares? Two years ago, Dr Levenberg made lame rodents walk, and humans are next!
Just read the title of this groundbreaking study published in, how suitable, Frontiers:
Javier Ganz , Erez Shor , Shaowei Guo , Anton Sheinin , Ina Arie , Izhak Michaelevski , Sandu Pitaru , Daniel Offen , Shulamit Levenberg Implantation of 3D Constructs Embedded with Oral Mucosa-Derived Cells Induces Functional Recovery in Rats with Complete Spinal Cord Transection Frontiers in Neuroscience (2017) doi: 10.3389/fnins.2017.00589
Yes, they used HUMAN oral mucosa cells, injected them into the severed spine of rats, and lo and behold, another miracle in the Holy Land: the lame rats walked again! I will let you imagine why two years on nobody ever mentions that miraculous breakthrough again.
But do wipe off that stupid laugh off your face, Dr Levenberg may have exaggerated her clinical achievements, but remember: she got $100 Million from Leonardo DiCaprio and others to turn her fibroblast cell therapy into lab-grown 3D bioprinted meat.
No end in sight
A Guardian article from December 2021 celebrates more lab-grown meat pioneers. In particular this Israeli company:
“The largest lab-grown steak yet produced has been unveiled by the Israeli company MeaTech 3D, weighing in at nearly 4oz (110 grams).
The steak is composed of real muscle and fat cells, derived from tissue samples taken from a cow. Living bovine stem cells were incorporated into “bio-inks” that were then placed in the company’s 3D printer to produce the steak. It was then matured in an incubator, in which the stem cells differentiated into fat and muscle cells. […]
Sharon Fima, CEO at MeaTech, said: “The breakthrough is the culmination of over one year’s efforts in our cellular biology and high-throughput tissue-engineering processes, as well as our precision bioprinting technology. We believe we have placed ourselves at the forefront of the race to develop high-end, cell-based meat products.” Cell lines for pork and chicken are also being developed, he said.”
It’s again 3D bioprinted stem cell magic! And it is free from vegan ingredients, as the company proudly announces:
Now who is surprised that the Tel Aviv University professor Tal Dvir, currently funded by ERC with €1.5 million to create a 3D bioprinted HEART for human transplants (because Macchiarini affair never happened), is on MeaTech’s board?
“Israeli biotech company Matricelf (TASE: MTLF) today reported that it has successfully completed another usability trial with human implants for replacing the injured spinal cord of a living pig. The company is developing autologous (bone marrow) implants for the regeneration of damaged tissues by using stem cells and external stem cell components from the patients themselves.”
Bone marrow cells. To regenerate spinal cord. If it (predictably) fails, Dvir can schlep those blood cells over to MeaTech for some Blutwurst.
What is it with these Israeli Scientists (TM) characters going into lab-grown meat business? Is it because their much touted medical cures are actually bombastic bullshit failures? Or is lab-grown meat business is so scammy and fraudulent that it attracts this kind of scientists? Maybe it’s both.
Full disclaimer: Leonid Schneider is a near-vegan vegetarian of Jewish-Ukrainian origin. This article is clearly biased and ill-informed shilling for Big Hummus.
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