The potential of thriving innovation in the Israeli life sciences industry is rapidly becoming more attractive to global biotechnology and medical device companies as regulatory requirements for the introduction of new products becomes more difficult and expensive. "We have been experiencing a turning point recently regarding the interest of global biotechnology companies in the Israeli life sciences industry," said Dr. Aharon Schwartz, vice president of strategic business planning & new ventures at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "The big companies from Pfizer, Merck and Novartis are slowly waking up to the potential of early-stage companies in the Israeli life sciences industry as the need for new products is growing." The Israeli life sciences industry, to date, counts 557 companies of which 77 percent were founded during the last decade, with almost half of the industry, or about 45%, established over the last five years. Industry growth, over the past five years, has remained stable with approximately 50 to 60 new companies established annually. "For many years, Israel has been known to have the highest level of science. But when we look at how this slogan is translated to production, the result is not impressive," said Schwartz, who also is co-chairperson of the sixth annual Biomed Israel 2006 conference, which will take place in Jerusalem at the end of the month. Israel takes the leading position in the total number of granted patents in the medical device area, worldwide in terms of patents per capita, and number seven in absolute number of patents. Schwartz noted that the missing part for the development of the immense potential was the interaction between Israel and the world to market the products. "Biomed 2006 will provide the platform for a meeting point between science, technology, business and industry and the capital market to bring closer the missing link." The conference will host 3,000 expected visitors and 150 exhibitors, of which 40 are delegations from abroad - double the number from last year. Participants in the conference include Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co., Amgen, GE Global Research and Medtronic Inc. The main topics covered during the conference will be cardiology, orthopedics, imaging and nerve stimulation discussing innovation and technology. Schwartz noted that the increased number of leading global participants and the interest of key figures from the life sciences industry taking part in the conference was a mirror of the growing interest in the potential of the Israeli market for products. That potential also has attracted the interest of the capital market. According to the annual 2005 survey of the IVC Research Center, capital raised in the hi-tech sector was down, while the life sciences sector received much attention. The latter represented 20% of capital raised taking second place to communication companies. Capital investment in Israeli life sciences companies totaled $200 million in 2005, according to Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, Israel - Kesselman & Kesselman's Money Tree survey on the life sciences. About 70% of capital invested in the life sciences in 2005 was channeled to medical devices and equipment companies. Capital raised by Israeli venture capital in 2005 was primarily the result of six new Israeli venture capital funds that completed their fund raising in the course of 2005. Among these were Benchmark Israel II, which closed a $250m. fund; Carmel, which closed its $200m. second fund; and Israel Healthcare Ventures, which closed on a $140m. second fund dedicated to the life sciences.