Cancer-treatment drug gets name from the Torah

Fabrice Harari, chairman and CEO of Steba Biotech, told The Jerusalem Post by phone that “it feels holy” to use a biblical name.

July 17, 2018 20:37
2 minute read.
CANCER PATIENTS sit in a chemotherapy ward while receiving treatment at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospit

CANCER PATIENTS sit in a chemotherapy ward while receiving treatment at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, Ghana, in 2012qq. (photo credit: OLIVIER ASSELIN/REUTERS)


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A pharmaceutical company has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to market their new drug under a name derived from the Torah.

In a press release, Steba Biotech claimed that this is the first time the FDA has approved a name for a drug based on “its biblical context” and not on its active ingredients.

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The drug, Tookad, treats prostate cancer as part of a laser-based treatment meant to be minimally invasive. It has received various forms of approval in Israel, Mexico and over 30 European countries. Its name comes from Leviticus 6:6, which says: “A perpetual fire shall be kept burning (tookad) on the altar, not to go out” (JPS 1985 translation).

Steba Biotech, based in Luxembourg, has facilities in Israel, including a research center. Some of the technology used in the Tookad treatment was licensed from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot.

Fabrice Harari, chairman and CEO of Steba Biotech, told The Jerusalem Post by phone that “it feels holy” to use a biblical name, which was given at the beginning of the research phase for the drug.

Tookad in the Torah is “the eternal fire that comes in the [Holy] Temple to burn the sacrifice,” he said, which was related to the original concept of the drug, “a drug that would bring some sort of energy to destroy the [cancerous] tumor.”

He credited his father for finding the name and the analogy it represents between the drug and the Torah’s mentioning of its name.


When asked about the process of naming drugs, Harari said that: “The commercial name of a drug is usually decided at a later stage, sometime after the drug has been approved. During all of this life of development, the commercial name does not exist. It’s usually the code name that exists.”

The company used the name Tookad for developmental purposes and kept it for the final product, receiving no pushback from anyone for doing so.

Harari said one of his favorite anecdotes surrounding the naming of the drug is that, sometime after it had been initially named, a rabbi showed him how the words tookad, refaeini (I will cure), and harari (‘my mountain’, but also his family name) all appear within verses of each other in the Haftorah (portion from the Prophets read after the weekly Torah portion) of Bechukotai.

“What are the odds that this would exist?” he said – that three words which reflect what the drug has come to represent to him could all be in the same portion.

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