Arab Israeli startup developing stroke treatment raises $7m

While that’s usually good news, it can prevent the body from healing bleeding in the brain.

By
July 18, 2016 18:28
3 minute read.
A doctor stands with stethoscope in this undated handout photo.

A doctor stands with stethoscope in this undated handout photo.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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PamBio, a medical start-up founded by an Arab Israeli couple that is pioneering a treatment for hemorrhagic stroke, announced on Monday that they have raised $7 million in funding.

The company, founded by Prof. Abd al-Roof Higazi and his wife Dr. Noha Higazi, is developing a treatment for strokes that cause bleeding in the brain.

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“We had the idea while working with a certain protein that is usually used to open blood clots and blood vessels that had been occluded,” explained Prof. Higazi, who heads the laboratories and department of Clinical Biochemistry at the Hadassah University Medical Center Hospital in Jerusalem.

While some strokes are caused by blood clots, and medicines exist to reopen the flow of blood, other strokes are characterized by bleeding in the brain, he explained. The protein in question, tPA, is naturally produced, and works to prevent blood clots from fully forming.

While that’s usually good news, it can prevent the body from healing bleeding in the brain.

“It’s over-secreted when there’s damage in the brain. We inject an antidote that competes with the tPA protein and inhibit its activity,” he said. In other words, they trick the body into thinking there’s already plenty of tPA, but the medication itself doesn’t stop clot formation.

It also doesn’t initiate new clots, which would be a risk factor in causing other strokes, he added.

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Monday’s funding announcement is a big success for the company, which has completed the incubation program at NGT.

NGT, which is partly funded by the Economy Ministry, is a Nazareth- based incubator that seeks to develop start-ups in the Arab sector.

“It’s not trivial for a pharma company in the incubation stage raise such a sum of money,” noted Dr. Amos Ofer, the company’s CEO.

PamBio plans on using the funds to prepare the medication for human trials and FDA approval, though it doesn’t anticipate that the drug will be commercially available for at least eight years.

For Higazi, the achievement is a hopeful sign of things to come for Israel’s Arab sector, which lags behind the non-haredi Jewish population in measures of education and wealth.

“I’m very happy that the Arab population here in Israel are being more and more integrated in all fields including science and hightech. I know that we have a long way in order to be on the same level, but this is a good beginning,” he said.

Higazi grew up in the Galilee and went to medical school in Barcelona before moving to Jerusalem to do his residency at Hadassah. His wife was educated at the Technion before moving to the Hebrew University.

The company, he said, is a microcosm of coexistence; in addition to its Muslim founders and Jewish CEO, it also employs a Christian.

“Our young people, at least part of them, are finding the way to do what they can do, and I hope that this will affect the common life of Arabs and Jews here, and I think this will contribute to this sort of coexistence,” he said.

Ofer agrees, and sees greater career success for both Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews an imperative for Israel’s economy.

“I think the potential in the Arab sector and the haredi sector as well is huge, both as a motor that will run the economy and further develop society, that will facilitate Arab and Jewish collaboration,” he said.

“There are a lot of talented young scientists, people with dreams and ambitions, and I think in the next 10-15 years the state of Israel will only benefit from helping them along,” he added.

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