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Israel has the potential to become a world showcase for medical information, causing pharmaceutical companies to flock here, financier Michael Milken said last week at a daylong conference in Jerusalem sponsored by his Milken Family Foundation.
Israel has a unique opportunity to collect data, he said, as most of its young people are drafted into the army - a process that mandates blood testing. Israel also boasts immigrants and descendants of immigrants from 120 countries, he added.
Milken said almost a trillion dollars in know-how and education arrived here in the form of well-educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
He said Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invest $100 million in encouraging Soviet-era emigrants, including Jews, to return to Russia.
"[Putin] understands that Russia's potential wealth is not oil fields but people and know-how," he said.
Milken's charitable work promoting Israeli biomedical research is helping to rehabilitate his image after he was sentenced to a prison term for racketeering and securities fraud.
His generosity and the prestige of his Milken Institute's Financial and Policy Innovations Lab for Medical Solutions in Israel attracted to the conference President Shimon Peres, leading medical researchers such as Prof. Ruth Arnon and Dr. Haim Aviv, and representatives of the Israeli and US biomedical industry. Also present were biotech leaders Dr. Orna Berry, Dr. Morris Laster and Dr. Aharon Schwartz.
The event was chaired by Prof. Raphael Walden, Peres's son-in-law and deputy director-general of Israel's largest hospital, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer.
At the entrance to the hall were copies of a cookbook with recipes claiming to help promote good health and prevent cancer, co-authored by Milken, who has survived prostate cancer.
Israel has significant know-how in dealing with most of the major problems facing humanity, including the lack of potable water, pollution, the need to grow more food, defeating terrorism and improving education, Milken said.
Israel is "unique for its talented people, technology and ingenuity," he said.
The leaders in biomedicine and industry spent the day discussing how to further the aim of accelerating Israel's position as a global leader in drug development, medical device innovation and health care delivery.
A follow-up conference will be held in May 2008 under the auspices of Beit Hanassi.
"We can create a financial mechanism to spur research moving from universities and industry to the bedside," Milken said.
Peres said Israel could provide new medical technology to China, India and other advancing nations that will need to treat the diseases of its people.
He urged the government to give entrepreneurs and the academic world more freedom and financial help to creating new technologies.
"We have to think differently, mobilize our talents to make ourselves a better people and show the world that goodwill may be the real force of our time," Peres said.
Finance Ministry director-general Yarom Ariav said the economy
was booming, and that while hi-tech is still the engine pushing the economy ahead, the state must also invest in traditional industry.
"We need to be one step ahead all the time," he said. "The government must promote education. This sector will get more resources. We must create an atmosphere for the private sector to grow and create new areas of innovation."
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