By chance, I came across one of the most impressive people I have ever met in Israel. It was Erev Yom Kippur 2020, and I had just been told that no women were admitted to my synagogue in Jerusalem due to corona.
Walking back home despondently, I noticed that chairs in the garden of one of the nearby homes in the German Colony had been arranged for prayer. The owner of that home, Uzi Sofer, whom I had never met, agreed immediately to let me join all religious services. Only much later did I realize how amazing is the story of this entrepreneur.
Sofer was only two and a half years old when his parents made aliyah from Djerba in 1971. They settled in a crime-ridden area of Beersheba known at the time for its pervasive violence, drug addicts and murder cases.
Against the backdrop of this scenario, Sofer’s parents spared no expense to send him to study at the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva. The school of hard knocks he grew up in taught him about survival and persistence. The huge educational sacrifices his parents made paid off in the end.
Sofer was admitted to Ben-Gurion University to study astrophysics, but after only three days he decided to switch to the Jerusalem College of Technology to study accounting and Information Systems.
After serving in the IDF, Uzi married Tony, his childhood sweetheart, who was also his sister’s best friend. His sister tragically died when she was only 18 years old.
In 2003, after creating numerous low-tech jobs, Uzi Sofer together with his mentor, Avner Chagai, co-founded BrainsWay, which has revolutionized the treatment of depression and OCD.
Through magnetic and non-invasive stimulation, BrainsWay is developing treatments for serious brain disorders. Sofer went on to work with US Homeland Security on protective armor.
In 2014, at the peak of his success, he decided to take time out and resigned as CEO. He turned down hundreds of business offers he received for joint ventures, but could not reject the most persistent person: Howard Sterling, the top Wall Street hi-tech investor.
It took Sofer a year to sort out the mess at Alpha Althera and launch a new organization from scratch. Founded in 2016, Alpha Tau is a medical device company that focuses on research, development and distribution of the Alpha DaRT (Diffusing Alpha-emitters Radiation Therapy) for the treatment of solid tumors.
The technology was initially developed by Prof. Itzhak Kelson and Prof Yona Keisari from Tel Aviv University. Alpha Tau later secured a merger agreement with Capital Corp. and became a Nasdaq-listed company.
As I was touring Alpha Tau’s impressive research and development facility in Jerusalem the other day, Sofer informed me that the development of innovative alpha radiation had just received a Breakthrough Device Designation for Alpha DaRT from the FDA (the American Food and Drug Administration) for treatment of patients with GBM, a malignant and aggressive brain tumor.
The first designation from the FDA was in June for the treatment of skin cancer. It is a tremendous milestone in the company’s revolutionary technology.
Being able to transform the treatment of solid tumors through precision delivery of Alpha Radiation while sparing surrounding healthy tissue is life-changing for cancer patients.
The company has also just announced that all patients in its US pilot demonstrated complete response with no adverse effects. Alpha Tau now has development centers in both Israel, the US and Japan.
It came as no surprise that the person who first opened the doors of his home to the local community so we could all pray safely during the pandemic would be the same person who sought to research and develop new technologies to help cure cancer.
Uzi Sofer is a modern-day pioneer helping materialize inventions that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.
Against all odds, the boy from humble beginnings in Beersheba rose to become the CEO of a cutting-edge company that should give Israel true cause for pride.
Shoshana Tita is a writer, journalist and director of Torah Life Center of Potomac, Md. ■