Int'l experts advise Israel on promoting biomedical research

Intl experts advise Isr

The government should quickly raise its annual expenditures on merit-based scientific research from the current $65 million to a least $100m., and raise funding for biomedical research at the expense of grants to companies for product research and development. So said Knesset Science and Technology Committee chairman (and former finance minister) MK Meir Sheetrit on Wednesday at the Israel Academy of Sciences international comparative workshop on strategies to increase support for biomedical research. The two-day event was held at the academy's headquarters in Jerusalem to kick off the institution's jubilee year as an official adviser to the government on science matters, and to get practical advice from biomedical research experts in the US, the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. Sheetrit said that biomedical merit research - conducted by scientists who compete for grants - has to be boosted to help keep promising young Israeli scientists from emigrating, and to maintain Israel's lead in specific fields that will save lives and improve people's quality of life. The economic and social benefits from successful biomedical research is very high, he said. Sheetrit promised to raise a discussion of the issues in his committee. "We must change our priorities for allocations," he said, adding that he dreamed of Israel having the equivalent of the US National Institutes of Health to set policies and allocate enough funds to preserve and expand Israel's reputation for top scientific research. Academy president Prof. Menahem Ya'ari said he was very concerned about a bill recently placed before the Knesset that would change the status of intellectual property (IP) coming out of biomedical research. It would designate the state as the owner of such research, pulling the rug out from under scientists working in government hospitals and discourage them from investing their brains and energies in such research. Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman said he would try to increase the amount of money received by the Treasury for allocation to medical researchers, but that it was "not easy." Prof. Ruth Arnon, the world-famous Weizmann Institute of Science immunologist, presented a major report on which she and colleagues spent two years to make recommendations on expanding biomedical research here. She herself is one of the co-developers of Copaxone, the widely used multiple sclerosis drug that reduces the frequency and severity of attacks of this incurable neurological disease. Arnon noted that while Israel excels in computer sciences - it is actually No. 1 in the world in citations per capita - and is excellent in mathematics, theoretical physics and chemistry, it lags behind its potential in clinical medical research. The Israelis received briefings and advice from professionals at the US National Institutes of Health and Institute of Medicine; the UK Medical Research Council, the French Academy of Science, the German former president of the Robert Koch and Paul Ehrlich Institutes; and the former secretary-general of the Swedish Medical Council. A feature on the conference will appear on the Science/Health Page of Sunday, December 13.