Meet the British scientist at the cutting edge of Israel's mask making empire

Jason Migdal, 28, has been producing among the world's most cutting edge masks with Israeli manufacturer Sonovia


Inside an unassuming 1980s office building in Ramat Gan, a resistance operation to Covid-19 is under way. Sonovia, a bio-tech start-up, recently moved in. Between its lab, its post room and its 25-strong international team, the company is dedicated to helping prevent the spread of the coronavirus, thanks to a revolutionary new anti-viral face mask that claims to kill 99.87% of all germs — including the coronavirus.

The idea to pivot from making anti-viral solutions for the medical industry to consumer friendly face masks came from Jason Migdal, a 28 year-old British man from Southgate, who joined the company late last year. “I came on the MASA programme [which traditionally offers internships and study opportunities] because I always wanted to live and work in Israel,” explains Migdal, who was educated at Hasmonean school. “MASA has a new scheme where they set professionals up with paying jobs in Israel. I graduated from the Royal Veterinary College in 2014 and I have a Masters in Molecular Biomedicine, so at first they didn’t think they would find anything specifically relevant to me. But then Sonovia came up on their database. 

“At the time, they were focusing on anti-microbial textiles for long-term use in hospitals. I thought, ‘This is relatable, I can work with this,’ so I took the opportunity.” 

Within months of his arrival last November, the world as we know it entirely changed. “We were sitting around in the office one day and reports were coming in from Wuhan that there was a novel coronavirus and it was spreading outwards and governments were worried it would become an epidemic,” he recalls. That’s when Migdal had his lightbulb moment.

“I thought, well, viruses are biological organisms which have a membrane similar to the bacteria that we’ve lab tested. I wanted to see if our antiviral fabrics which use zinc oxide to kill bacteria could be made into a type of mask that could be washed and re-used and offer a breakthrough for this type of pandemic.”

Migdal and the Sonovia team set to work immediately. “We made some prototypes and donated to the people in need. We sent some to non-profits in Israel and to Tel HaShomer hospital (one of the first hospitals in Israel to open a coronavirus unit). But then we realised we really needed anti-viral testing. It was hard to find a lab that could test against the corona virus but we found one in China and submitted it very early in the year. A few months later the results came back and the SonoMask was born.”

“The mask provides two-sided protection. Most importantly, it’s proven to neutralise Covid-19. At around £52 per mask it’s not cheap, but Migdal is sure it’s an investment worth making. 

“Our patented technology has been verified in our pilot study to last for 65 washes, maybe even more. You just hand wash it in two thirds boiled water and one third cold water, which will equal around 60 degrees. This will kill every germ and you won’t need detergent.” 

Sonovia now manufactures 9,000 masks per day at its factory in northern Israel and demand for its products has spread to all corners of the globe. 

“The masks are 100% Israeli engineered, which we’re very proud of, and we ship internationally” says Migdal. 

During my visit to their HQ, I saw bundles of DHL packages waiting to be couriered across the globe. The company is also helping new immigrants to Israel stay Corona-safe by donating masks to Nefesh B’Nefesh, which will be given in a welcome-pack after they make aliyah.

Sonovia intends to float on the NASDAQ next year. “This mask initiative has really helped impress some investors because they can see a business plan which is actually generating revenue, so it’s worked in our favour,” says Migdal. “It means we can generate funds for new machinery and make items for commercial use, a lot quicker.”

Of course this being Israel, it’s not just science that drives business; in this case there’s a spiritual element too. On the wall in the board room is a picture of HaRav David Abuchatzeira, a renowned Moroccan Rabbi who teaches Kaballah and does a lot of mystical work. “Our CEO Josh ‘Shuki’ Hershcovich consults with him,” says Migdal. “He goes to the north to see him and ask advice, it’s important that what we do here has his blessing.” 

As for Migdal, he consults from time to time with his mum and dad. “They’re still in London. They miss me, but I send them masks! They are proud. I hope that when the situation is under control and flights start up again they’ll be able to come out and I can show them around the office and Israel.” 

In the mean time, it’s back to work. “Currently, we are testing to find out how quickly the virus get de-activated by our masks,” says Migdal. “We’re trying to get that test done so the public can be reassured about how fast it is. We also love getting feedback. We’ve had messages from customers who have flown on planes with other people who have had Covid, and they haven’t been infected. And we like to think we’ve played a part in that.”

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