Biotechnology - the marriage of biology and technology - is booming. And Israeli biotech companies are major players on the world stage.
At Bio 2005, the world's largest biotechnology gathering, sponsored annually by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, in Washington, D.C., and held this year at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, more than 60 Israeli companies were in attendance. Overall, a new record was set - with 18,730 delegates from 56 countries and all 50 states.
During the convention, hosted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the states of New Jersey and Delaware, representatives of many of the companies from Israel went to an evening reception for Israeli life-science firms organized and hosted by the Science Center, in Philadelphia's University City.
David Gitlin, president of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Philadelphia, explained that with its history of pharmaceuticals, hospitals and medical research, Philadelphia is a traditional hotbed of biotechnology: "We are showing Israeli biotech companies that Philadelphia has a lot to offer their businesses, and are finding there is a lot of interest from them."
An important group, working to foster biotech relationships between the United States and Israel, is the U.S.–Israel Science & Technology Commission, founded in March 1993. Its mission is to maximize the contribution of technology to economic growth, facilitating joint ventures that link Israeli innovation and entrepreneurship with American technological and marketing leadership.
David Miron-Wapner, the USISTC's Tel Aviv-based manager, talked briefly about how the USISTC strives to achieve its goals.
"Our aim," he said, "is to build an infrastructure for Israeli companies that will help them to find markets in the U.S., as we did, for example, for a number of Israeli biotechs in Maryland and for similar Israeli companies in California, all of which are involved in either research and development or sales."
A medical-technology project currently under way, Miron-Wapner mentioned, is the development of gamma cameras - a new generation of compact, high-performance imaging cameras that will record nuclear tracers, creating images that will help to determine the health of the body's major organs.
The U.S.-Israeli team involved in the project is comprised of eV Products, Saxonburg, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh; Elgems, an Israeli subsidiary of General Electric, based in Haifa; and Soreq Development Corp., the commercial arm of the Soreq Nuclear Research Center, located in Yavne, Israel, west of Beersheva.
One of the major Israeli biotech companies at the convention and at the reception was Paramount Biosciences, LLC, Bet Shemesh, Israel, with headquarters in New York. Its managing director in Israel, Asher T. Nathan, Ph.D., spoke about the company, what it does and Israel's biotech industry.
"Paramount, one of the world's premier biotechnology investment/drug development companies, employs more than 60 M.D.s, Ph.D.s, investment bankers and other professionals. Its founder and chairman, Dr. Lindsay Rosenwald, is a nice Jewish doctor from Philly and a graduate of Temple University.
"He has spent the last 20 years in biotechnology, and has been listed in Genetic Engineering News as the world's second most successful bio-entrepreneur," attested Nathan.
"A year ago, Dr. Rosenwald made the strategic decision to set up an office in Israel because of its world-renowned reputation for innovation. Paramount has already started one Israel-based company, Keryx, which has a valuation of nearly $500 million, and is today publicly traded on the NASDAQ."
In addition, he said, the company has committed itself and its resources to the active pursuit of several Israeli breakthrough drugs in the fields of neurology, pain management and gastroenterology.
Another Israeli biotech firm at the reception was the Misgav Technology Center in the Teradion Industrial Park in Misgav, Israel, represented by CEO Steve Rhodes, who talked about it as "a technology incubator for entrepreneurs dedicated to commercializing life-science and homeland-security products."
At present, MTC, founded in 1992, has 24 companies in four areas: medical devices, pharma/ biotech, microelectronics and software, and material science and engineering. A look at just one of the 24, Rhodes said, shows that ET View Ltd., has moved from the incubation and research-and-development stages to sales with a medical device -an endotracheal tube with an embedded camera.
A third company at the reception was Hadasit, the technology transfer company of Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem.
Raphael Hofstein, Ph.D., president and CEO, focused on what is happening at his company, and on what is needed most to advance Israel's biotech industry: "In the five years Hadasit has been in existence, we have helped to form 20 biotech companies that are working on such things as embryonic stem cells."
Work recently began on "construction of a new biotech park to allow research and development to go on from many different angles," he said.
As for what's needed most to boost Israel's biotechnology interests, to get them to the extraordinary levels of the country's high-tech companies, the answer is basic, said Hofstein: increased funds.
"We are trying to convince the government of Israel to invest the money because, as we saw with high-tech investment, $100 million has become $10 billion," he said. "There is enormous potential for the same thing to happen with biotechnology in Israel."