Israel promotes international biotech cooperation

A delegation of 20 local companies cooperate with the US, Canada, Brazil at the annual BIO International Conference.

Biotech conference (photo credit: Courtesy Enterprise Lithuania)
Biotech conference
(photo credit: Courtesy Enterprise Lithuania)
Israel’s Industry Center for Research and Development accompanied a delegation of 20 local companies to promote cooperation with the US, Canada and Brazil at the annual BIO International Conference in Chicago this week.
“The innovations Israeli companies offer attract great interest,” says Yariv Becher, the Economy Ministry’s economic attaché in Chicago, citing the “overwhelming turnout” at a special event for Israeli companies called the North America Israel Biotech Conference.
Israel’s participation is indicative of a larger trend.
According to Benny Zeevi, the managing general partner at DFJ Tel Aviv, an investment firm, Israel’s burgeoning biotechnology industry is transitioning from a period of incubation to one of maturity. “Compared to the hi-tech industry, it’s relatively young, but it’s growing very fast,” he says, noting that the number of biotech companies has nearly tripled since 2003.
Many of the factors that make Israel a hi-tech hub can make it a hotbed of biological and medical technology as well, says Ruti Alon, a general partner at Pitango venture capital.
“If you look at where Israel is strong, it’s in medical devices, for which you need both science and engineering. Combined, Israel is first in the world in patents granted per capita, and number two in pharma,” she says.
Because both medical and pharmacological innovations take a long time to develop and market their products, she adds, Israel’s biotechnology is just starting to bear the fruit of investments made in the last decade; 160 companies are in advanced clinical trials, double the number of five years ago.
Another unique signifier of Israeli biotech, she adds, is that its entrepreneurs tend to be very multi-disciplinary, combining skills and knowledge from a number of fields into one product.
That, says Zeevi, is a result of the mandatory army service.
“When you’re in the army, you learn how to work with a group of people to build systems,” he says.
Israelis who train with military technology like imaging, radar and remote sensing technologies are applying those concepts toward health products.
The country’s small size also helps. “This is the only place where the R&D centers talk with each other. Everybody knows everybody,” says Zeevi.
Yet the industry faces challenges, particularly in finding financing. “Funding is a major problem,” says Zeevi, continuing that there is not enough venture capital focusing on the industry. In 2012, only about 15% of capital raised in the industry came from venture capitalists; the rest came from grants or angel investors.
To that end, Zeevi and Alon chair an annual life-sciences conference called the Israel Advanced Technology Industries Bio-med conference. The June conference will use a special social-media platform to allow participants to vote on the agenda, putting the most popular presenters in the center.
For international companies interested in biological and life sciences, says Alon, “Israel like a candy store.”
The conference is expected to attract 1,000 of its 6,000 visitors from abroad, representing 40 countries.