In an effort to turn Jerusalem into the biomed capital and create new jobs, BioJerusalem, an initiative of the Jerusalem Development Authority, will allocate at least two grants of NIS 2.4 million each to life-sciences companies that are planning to establish or expand activity in Jerusalem this year. "The municipal authorities in Jerusalem are the first in Israel to recognize the importance of the biomedical industry as a major growth engine for the economic development of the city," Jerusalem Development Authority CEO Asaf Vitman said Monday. "This unprecedented benefit, unmatched by any other city in Israel, is aimed at encouraging the establishment and expansion of biomedical companies in the capital for the purpose of increasing employment in the city." Initially, two life-sciences companies - including biotech, pharmaceuticals and medical devices - that base their business in Jerusalem this year will be eligible for the NIS 2.4m. grant, subject to the condition that they employ at least 50 new employees in a constructed area of at least 2,500 square meters. If the program succeeds, it will be continued next year, with the option of more life-sciences companies receiving grants, Vitman said. The grant, aimed at accelerating the establishment of biomedical companies in Jerusalem, is part of the Jerusalem Economic Development Program approved by the government in 2005; it originally allocated a total of NIS 280m. over seven years for the economic development of the city. "The new grant will support the growth we are already witnessing of the life-science industry in Jerusalem, with an increase of more than 25 percent over the last two years in the job market of this industry," BioJerusalem executive director Shirley Kutner said. "We predict the growth will increase even faster in the coming five years. We believe this grant will catalyze investments and other projects that will help develop Jerusalem into the biomed capital of Israel." There are currently about 100 life-sciences companies based in Jerusalem. On Tuesday, the Israel Life Sciences Industry Biomed 2008 conference will begin. It will be attended by global industry leaders and economic delegations from business and academia. Arriving on Tuesday, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley will lead a high-level delegation of business people who are mainly active in the biotech field. They will focus on expanding business ties between Maryland and Israel. "During the trip, we hope to build new relationships and successful partnerships between Maryland and Israeli companies, as well as explore new opportunities based on our shared strengths, which continue to be our technology and life sciences-based economies," O'Malley said last week. During his visit, O'Malley is expected to make a number of announcements about Israeli businesses, including an announcement that Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is establishing or expanding its presence in Maryland. In 2006, Maryland exported more than $44m. of goods and services to Israel. Several Maryland venture capital firms have in the past invested in Israeli companies, including hi-tech- and biotech-focused players such as EMZA, Defensoft, Icaros, FiberZone Networks, ClassifEye, Innovea, eBIZmobility, LifeBond and Flexicath. About 30 Israeli companies already have offices in Maryland, including the US business development offices of Israel's largest defense contractors Rafael and Israel Military Industries. In addition, Teva now has a Maryland presence after its January 2008 acquisition of Rockville-based CoGenesys. Other Israeli companies in Maryland include Controp Precision Instruments, Verint Systems, Vuance, Compugen and Medispec. During the week-long mission, O'Malley is scheduled to meet with local businesses and government officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador Richard Jones.