Though Israel has a knack for producing the kind of hard-nosed, innovative
science needed to fuel pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies, its
biggest challenge is a lack of business know-how.
That’s the view of Avri
Havron, one of the pioneers of Israeli biotech (his company Prolor was acquired
for nearly a half-billion dollars in April), who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
ahead of his participation in the Weizmann Institute of Science’s first
Chemistry Society meeting on Thursday, which is to gather its notable
“The problem is, in my opinion, that what is missing in Israel is
– unlike the United states – the linkage between the idea and the money,” he
It’s not that Israel has not had its notable successes in the
field. Teva has become the world’s leading generics manufacturer, and drugs that
Havron himself helped develop, such as the multiple sclerosis drug Rebif, have
become blockbusters (Rebif brings in over $1 billion in annual
But the success stories have one common denominator: “They have a
very solid science on one hand, and on the other hand they have people who knew
how to put their hands on the money. They had access to financial resources and
sell the story, sell the dream,” Havron said.
Another challenge is that
even when smart, financial- minded people learn how to pitch biotechnology to
investors, biotech start-ups tend to be riskier than, say, medical
“Most funds are investing in devices, and that’s
well-understood. They need to give reasonable returns in reasonable times.
Obviously developing a device takes much less time than developing a
drug. The success rates are higher and the time is less,” he
Havron should know; he served four years as vice president of Clal
Biotech, Israel’s largest life-sciences investment group. From the financial
side of the game, he said, he not only looked for good “stories” about what
potential drugs could do, but also a solid argument that it was filling a new
niche in the market, instead of trying to compete with a million other drugs out
“As an investor, you’ve heard the story and you say fine, great,
the likelihood of success is 5 percent. But if you come in where a niche
is very obvious and the ratio between signal to noise is high, something that is
not every day in the headlines, the chances for success are
Instead of going for yet another autoimmune disease drug, aim
for a less “sexy” field, the way companies like MediWound, with its treatments
for third-degree burns, does, he said.
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