In the previous story regarding the Biomed Israel conference, Medical Device Daily described how the Israeli Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) was encouraging collaboration in order to empower Israeli companies (Medical Device Daily, May 28, 2015). The OCS' goals include both the startups' commercial success, as well as the desire to nurture larger (Israeli) entities. In this piece, MDD will expand on the areas of collaboration within the Israeli Biomed arena and beyond.
At a local level, a positive direction which was witnessed on the exhibition floor was the emergence of two Israeli clusters that were sharing space. While it might seem prosaic, two mid-size clusters within the Israeli environment, specifically decided to set up collective booths for their regions, rather than individual stalls.
In the city of Haifa – home of the Technion, the Rambam Hospital and The Rappaport Institute of Research – the Haifa Economic Corporation (HEC) seemed to be the gel that suggested a single booth to house these Haifa-based institutions under one banner. Similarly, the Jerusalem multi-party booth was one of the largest in the hall, and comprised of the key Jerusalem-based initiatives: Yissum and Hadassit, the successful TTOs of Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital respectively; and BioJerusalem, the municipality-based engine of growth. Shai Melcer, Executive Director of BioJerusalem, an initiative of the Jerusalem Development Authority, explained to MDD that "Constructive collaboration across these groups is their common practice so the conference was like a regular day at the office. The presence of Jerusalem's major resources under one banner at the Biomed Conference offered a broader opportunity of collaboration with researchers, investors and strategics alike."
An additional member to this Jerusalem team was the OurCrowd group, a promising Jerusalem-based crowdfunding platform that has a promising healthcare arm. OurCrowd chose to sit with the academic/clinical bodies– a rare occurrence to see investors, clinicians and academia in one booth. This typifies one of the values of this small highly-networked country. Morris Laster, Healthcare Venture Partner at OurCrowd shared with MDD that "Having a Jerusalem booth demonstrated the vitality of the Jerusalem biotech scene. I think having a booth with the Jerusalem ecosystem also gives a sense of weight or gravitas which helps attract other potential partners."
Companies collaborate across borders
But the larger promise of cooperation was across international borders. In one of the more commercially-oriented sessions, the audience at Biomed heard some of the world's largest med-tech players addressing issues affecting their worldwide and Israel-oriented development plans. The panel consisted of executives from Medtronic (Dublin), Boston Scientific (Marlborough, Massachusetts), Sanofi (Paris) and Johnson & Johnson (J&J; New Brunswick, New Jersey).
All these parties accepted that the old-style device play was losing traction to a more complex linkage between the device and the drug, and/or the device and the app. Looking into the future, the world of device development and collaborations was becoming more solutions-based, often requiring technology hybrids, an area where none of these large companies was totally comfortable. As an example, Sanofi – as a pharma player in diabetes – seeks to expand its offerings from the drug to the full patient solution. The company is reviewing a number of Israeli diagnostic sensing technologies, as well as assessing digital solutions that improve the patient's awareness of his status, and/or communication between the patient and the physician. Similarly, J&J described the greater integration of combination products within their portfolio, and this direction was echoed by Boston Scientific, who further expressed a belief that the mobile health arena would play a key role in the device world moving forward. These companies are seeking to find expert niche players with whom to partner in these newer areas of importance.
In addition to Sanofi, Pfizer (New York) expressed similar aspirations of increased collaborator activity. In his plenary session, Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer's president, Worldwide Research & Development further expanded on elements where collaboration – a major part of both device and drug developments today – would play a more important role in tomorrow's R&D and market coverage. "Mobile wear and sensing – technology that will enable a continuous dialogue between medication and patient - is an inevitable area of interest for Pfizer," he said, "as we advance towards the link between personalized health and treatments."
At the local startup level, this interest in integration of Healthcare and IT was borne out by another first at the conference, the Biomed organizers had organized a 'Health IT Hackathon' It consisted of healthcare-related technology challenges that groups of engineers, designers or clinical experts worked on in a syndicate to offer, by the end of the conference, a presentation of the utility of their potential software/hardware solutions to enable existing drug/device products to work more effectively.
IT, healthcare worlds collide
This interaction between the IT and the healthcare solutions world was further seen by Becton Dickinson's (BD, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina) advancing its startup accelerator program. Following its positive experience with Microsoft Israel in its six-month entrepreneur accelerator program, IBM Israel (Petach Tikva, Israel) shared the following with MDD: "BD has formed a partnership with IBM AlphaZone Accelerator (Petach Tikva, Israel) for their third accelerator class focused on Cognitive Computing. Together, BD and IBM will select and mentor startups building leading enterprise solutions for the healthcare market. The 24-week program typically recruits post Seed & Round A funded companies and the Cognitive Track will focus on a new generation of IT solutions powered by IBM's Watson and Bluemix (cloud computing) platforms as well as Big Data, Analytics, Mobile, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. Applications are presently being received for the program that will start September 2015."
Collaboration inevitably comes with various risks, and the world players are aware of this. Dolsten explained, for example, that while Pfizer's "bricks and mortar presence" was limited in Israel, the company saw the State as a key site for collaborative research. "We have a broader approach to collaboration, as we move forward. We see many of the R&D collaborations that we advance in Israel and elsewhere as our virtual footprint that is setting the stage for the next decades."
The air of collaboration at Pfizer was well timed with the announcement made at the conference that Pfizer was collaborating with the laboratory of Professor Ido Bachelet of Bar Ilan University (Givat Shmuel, Israel) to assess the potential of Bachelet's DNA robots. These robots are able to travel in the body, and detach their payload at a specific site, programmed using what Bachelet calls "DNA Origami." Orli Tori, CEO of Bar Ilan Research and Development (the University's Technology Transfer Office) told MDD "We are honored to be Pfizer's first academic collaborator in Israel. From a translational perspective, we see the collaboration with an expert team at Pfizer as the optimal method of advancing Dr. Bachelet's platform technology towards a specific application."
Addressing the entrepreneurial crowd that included groups well beyond the traditional pharma companies, Dolsten further added that "Your sophistication in R&D can help the move towards the genomic era, especially in light of the National Genetic Database Program." While Israel already has a complete Electronic Medical Records system, the Chief Scientist has recently established a pilot program whereby the Electronic Medical Record Project will be further enhanced. The patient's genome will be linked to the patient medical history, establishing an immense dataset of decades of collected medical information, and the corresponding genetic fingerprint of the patient concerned. In the future, this project may likely yield more international biomedical collaborations with Israel.