Monday, June 4, 2007

Bio-tech is Booming


Israel's life-sciences field is growing so rapidly that even industry trackers are having a tough time keeping up with the number of start-ups.

Of the approximately 750 Israeli companies in the field, nearly three-quarters were founded in the past 10 years, Yael Rogel-Fuchs, executive director of Israel Life Sciences Industry (ILSI), told JTA. The nonprofit organization was formed three years ago to promote the country's emerging biotechnology field.

In Israel they call the field "bio med," said Raphael Hofstein, president and CEO of Hadasit Ltd., a subsidiary of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem that takes the organization's technologies to market.

He points to the huge number of patents developed in Israel; the small Jewish state is No. 7 in the world in terms of patents, according to ILSI. In medical devices - which account for 53 percent of the life-sciences industry, according to figures published by ILSI - Israel is No. 1 per capita.

"We have coined a notion that there is a mountain of intellectual property coming out of Israel," Hofstein said

One notable success story is the multiple sclerosis drug developed by professors Ruth Arnon and Michael Sela of the Weizmann Institute and brought to market by Teva under the trademark name Copaxone.

Copaxone sales in 2006 reached $1.4 billion, according to an article by Arnon, former vice president of the Weizmann Institute. Sales are expected to total $46.1 billion for 2002-2007.

"It's a wonderful place to be for investment," Eckhouse said.

Cell Cure, which is partially owned by a Hadasit subsidiary, is using embryonic stem cells to develop treatment to replace damaged Parkinson's cells, Hofstein explained.

The issue of embryonic stem-cell research, so controversial in the United States, poses no such problem in Israel, says Nadav Tamir, Israel's consul general to New England.

In published reports following the announcement of the grants, Benjamin Reubinoff, Cell Cure's chief scientist, said the Knesset has authorized embryonic stem-cell research.

"The Jewish religion and Orthodox rabbis support human embryonic stem-cell research," Reubinoff is quoted as saying in Financial Times Information. "Their priority is to save a human life."

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