Medicines topped industrial exports as the category with the highest growth rate in the first half of the year, jumping 60 percent to $1.4 billion, the Manufacturers Association of Israel said Sunday. "The main problem faced today by Israeli medication companies is the long period of time needed for registering medications with the Health Ministry, which currently takes more than a year on average," said Chaim Hurvitz, chair of the association's pharmaceutical committee and vice president of Teva Group's international department. "Every delay to [the release of] medications having a generic substitute to the shelves in [Israel] and abroad causes significant losses to medication companies in Israel that have invested greatly in developing the medication, as well as harm to the sick, to the health-care market and to the health funds," he said, noting that generic drugs are approximately 80% cheaper than the original. While generic drugs account for 60% of medications consumed in Israel, their production costs amount to only 13% of the industry's total. Hurvitz called on the government to require hospitals and health funds to prefer Israeli-made medications over foreign ones when quality and prices are the same. Israel's pharmaceutical industry employs roughly 7,000 workers. The US led the list of destination markets for Israeli medications, growing 98% to $1.17b. in the first six months of 2006, in comparison with the same period last year. Ireland was the fastest growing destination for Israeli medication manufacturers, surging 136% to $6.9m. Meanwhile, the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry said it would hold an event in Switzerland on Wednesday to encourage investments and cooperation between Israel and Switzerland in the life sciences sector. Some 80 representatives of leading Swiss pharmaceutical makers, biotech companies and producers of medical equipment - such as Novartis, Debiopharm and Syngenta - are expected to participate in the event, as well as investors and fund managers, the ministry said.