Digital World: Israeli biotech - Good for what ails you

Israel is the world leader in patents for medical devices, relative to population size, and second in the patenting of biopharm products, including pharmaceuticals and treatments.

Ruti Alon 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ruti Alon 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As impressive as Israel’s performance in computer networking, security software, Web applications and mobile technology is – and it is indeed very impressive – it’s a pale shadow of Israel’s performance as a biotechnology giant. The statistics don’t lie: Israel is the world leader in patents for medical devices, relative to population size, and second in the patenting of biopharm products, including pharmaceuticals and treatments.
And Israel is eighth in the number of patents granted in the life-sciences industry, which may be the most amazing statistic of all, given the amount of time and money companies must invest in getting a product or technology tested and patented.
This week, the Israeli biotech industry is having its annual conference, the Biomed Israel 2011 show, sponsored by the Life Sciences Industries Association in Israel (ILSI), a nonprofit organization founded to serve and promote the goals of the Israeli life-sciences industry in the international arena. The show, which is taking place in Tel Aviv and is celebrating its tenth anniversary, has become a can’t-miss affair for top executives of pharmaceutical and medical-technology giants around the world.
A quick glance at the ILSI-Biomed website ( shows that the companies attending – and sponsoring events – include worldwide pharma giants such as Abbot Laboratories, Hoffman-LaRoche, Vetter, Johnson and Johnson, Teva and many others. Companies that don’t sponsor booths send top-level delegations anyway, as do governments, including, according to rumors, governments of countries that don’t exactly see eye-toeye with Israel on political issues.
So how successful has the Israeli lifesciences industry been? Check out the stats: There are currently about 700 active life-sciences companies in Israel; 56 percent of them (396) of them were founded in the last decade.
A quarter of them, 173, were founded only five years ago. Of the rest, 306 were founded before 2001, with the oldest, Teva Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1901 (amazing but true). Out of the 700, 401 (56%) are in the medicaldevices business.
From 2001 to 2005 the industry’s annual growth was 12%. Even though things have slowed a bit over the past three years, Biomed organizing committee chairperson Ruti Alon says growth has returned to the sector.
More than 100 of the companies established over the last decade are making money, she says, and “the most impressive fact is that 25 companies, about 8% of all companies that produce income, were founded only five years ago.”
And then, of course, there are the start-ups: Israel’s “little engines that can,” and do, eventually turn into large companies that bring their innovations to the rest of the world.
Biomed has a special place in its heart, and at the show, for start-ups, giving them their own pavilion.
Many of the start-ups have extremely promising technology: • VacciGuard is developing a unique technology to deploy enzymes for vaccines to treat everything from cancer and AIDS to the common cold, and everything in between.
• Stimatix has developed an artificial sphincter that will allow individuals with stoma to live a normal life, without being at the mercy of their bowel movements.
• MediValve’s innovative aortic valve insertion system will open the door to life-saving aortic valve replacement surgery to more at-risk patients.
• Pro-IV’s inoculation deployment system streamlines the application of pills and injections, eliminating confusion and saving lives.
There companies are sponsored by the Trendlines Group’s Misgav Venture Accelerator, chosen as Best Incubator by the Chief Scientist’s Office in 2010.
All of this is great if you’re a stockholder in Teva or have a stake in a venture-capital firm, I suppose, but what about something for the little guy (and gal)? Well, the biotech industry in Israel is good for the rest of us, too. According to a special JobInfo survey commissioned by ILSI and released this week, there was a 45% increase in demand for workers in the Israeli life-sciences industry. One of the sharpest demands was for quality-assurance personnel, with the poll showing an increase of 60% in the number of these positions.
And Israeli biotech has been a reliable sector for years. According to JobInfo director Ilana Ahimeir, the industry was one of the few in Israel that did not downsize during the 2008 recession. And the wages in the industry are certainly in the desirable range, she says.
Biotech is also a great engine for Zionism – or, at least, for good relations between the State of Israel and the rest of the world.
“One of the things I am always very excited about is the positive exposure Israel gets as a result of the arrival of so many VIPs in the worldwide biotech industry who attend Biomed,” says Dr. Hadar Ron, a managing partner at Israel Health Care Ventures and a member of the ILSI Board of Directors.
“Of course, they do not come because they love Israel, but because we are a center of innovation. Many international pharma companies already have development centers here, and each year we hear about important deals that are either initiated or closed at Biomed, during one of the hundreds of networking meetings that go on at the show.”
Spring is indeed “show season” in Israel, and besides Biomed, there’s another major event coming up next week: the annual conference of the Israel Hitech Industry Association. But that’s a story for another time (next week).