Medical Device Daily Israel Editor
TEL AVIV, Israel — The 10th ILSI Israeli Biomed conference was a significant landmark in the Israeli biomedical community. The three-day Israel-focused conference discussed the world healthcare environment, and specifically the biomedical state of the State of Israel. It has traditionally supported the placing of Israel as a highly regarded member of the device and biopharma world community.
Israel's "collective pride" in biomed achievements
Ruth Alon, managing partner at Pitango Venture Capital (Herzliyya, Israel), one of Israel's largest and most influential venture capital funds, described to Medical Device Daily the structure of the conference and the goals that it aspired to. "We are showing the world our high-quality entrepreneurs, who are inspiring Israel going forward, and presenting a scientific program of both biopharma and devices that has direct relevance to the Israeli community of research, development and commercialization."
As chairman of the conference, Alon had coordinated a wonderful array of Israeli biomedical and biopharma startups, peppered with well-established groups beside newer companies, and the old-guard experts together with the more recent Israeli Venture Capital entrants. In her opening remarks, she welcomed guests from near and far to learn and enjoy "the journey, as you get to know our science, and appreciate our collective pride."
"The schedule has included top quality personnel from academia and industry worldwide," Alon told MDD. Much like previous years, high profile business and clinical research names were present both as speakers and attendees. During breakout sessions that arose as tributaries to the main stream of lectures, networking and business card sharing abounded across members of at least three continents. Alon estimated that 5,000 Israeli locals would be joined by about 1,000 foreign experts.
Supportive government involvement
Every day's program was opened with a highly influential Government figure, who explained the major role and interest that the Government has in the field. At the opening ceremony, President Shimon Peres maintained the audience's attention with his enigmatic vignettes regarding neurology, psychology and the fact that "currently man can now control his surroundings, but not necessarily himself." Focusing on the CNS track in the conference, he hoped that a deeper understanding of neuroscience might help to solve major healthcare issues, as well as also improve political peacemaking.
Professor Stanley Fischer, Governor of the Bank of Israel, opened the second day of the Conference. He described the commitment that Israel has to the world of research and product development: Israel's State R&D investment as a percentage of its GDP is the largest of any country worldwide, he said. Since it can in no way compare to states with GDPs many times larger, much of the competitive advantage must be in efficiency of capital. He also emphasized that the world of venture capital – which had reached beyond 2% of GDP in 2000 ($3.3 billion at the time) – had dipped to well below 50% of that figure, with signals now appearing that it was on an upward track. He described the welcoming economic environment that Israel offered foreign investors and partnerships, and the ease of taking high-quality assets back home if and when desired. "The only thing we might say is 'please come here and do it again'" he added. Israel has much to learn from large device corporations, and the industry here is eager to acquire that knowledge.
Following Fischer's description of Israel's need to maintain its competitiveness, the Conferences' third day was opened with the State's main investor in industrial R&D: Avi Hasson, the Chief Scientist of the Government's Ministry of Trade and Industry. It is Hasson's office which decides most of the Government grants and awards for large and small Israeli companies, or for foreign groups collaborating with Israel. With a rich venture capital background himself, Hasson shared with the audience how the overall life science field now was receiving 28% of the country's R&D grants, up from only 18% in 2002. This, he said, was due to the quality of the projects – the majority of which were medical devices – that had justified such funds. We also surmise that Israel's biomedical universe is poised on a similar track to the Israeli hitech revolution, and just lagging a few years behind.
Hasson explained to the packed audience that the time was now ripe for a multitude of Government-incentivized private initiatives to encourage foreign investment in biomedical companies: "Pontifax Fund (Herzliyya, Israel) had already partnered with Roche Holding AG (Basel, Switzerland ), Merck-Serono (Geneva, Switzerland) has set up its own investment fund here, and Orbimed Advisers (New York) has just set up its Israeli Fund . . . and this is just the beginning," Hasson said. "We are working to bring additional multinational biomedical companies here to partner with us."
Israeli offerings in cardiology
Besides the world-class speakers, invariably describing R&D or commercialization elements of drugs, devices, and diagnostics, there were a variety of specialist streams and sessions, focusing on specific areas of Israeli fields of excellence. Cardiology, as always, took a central position: Companies such as Medtronic (Minneapolis), Boston Scientific (Natick, Massachusetts), Johnson & Johnson (New Brunswick, New Jersey), St. Jude (St. Paul, Minnesota) and Edwards Lifesciences (Irvine, California) having made multiple purchases of strategic importance in the past few years in the Cardiology area. With only approximately 7 million inhabitants, five major universities, and a GDP of below 2% of that of the U.S., Israel has become a source of promising deals in the past years, such as St. Jude's purchase of Mediguide (Interventional cardiology navigation systems, Haifa, Israel) in 2008 for $300 million, or Medtronic's purchase of Ventor (Aortic prosthesis for $325 million, Netanya, Israel) in 2009, or their $70 million investment in Biocontrol (Electrical nerve stimulation, Yehud, Israel) in 2010, towards a possible purchase.
Other areas of focus
Additional areas that were present at this year's congress included central nervous diseases, as well as digital/mobile health, an area that Israel, known as a world-quality established hitech centre, is likely to excel in over the coming years. And one enigmatic business-oriented session focused on the optimal management structure of a fledgling clinical-trials-stage Israeli company: foreign or local senior management. The advantages and the pitfalls of either approach for an entrepreneurial company were discussed, for the Israeli entrepreneurial group that needs to formalize many of its approaches as it enters the wider worlds of regulations, clinical and sales.
Satellite events for more focused discussion at the event were well attended. Early in the conference, a packed audience heard some of the U.S.' top healthcare investor groups (both financial and corporate bodies) describe their perspective on today's world healthcare environment, capital raising issues, and the startup's best strategy in playing a role in this changing environment. Other sessions involved detailed presentations regarding opportunities in Israel's highly developed Technology Transfer Organizations (TTOs), as well as BioJerusalem's (Jerusalem, Israel) New Technology Session. This competitive session involved audience voting on the most attractive, innovative and hopeful of Israel's presenting startups. The winning device companies included: Syrolight (Yahud, Israel) which has developed advanced light therapy devices; Aspect Magnet Technologies (Shoham, Israel) which uses a powerful miniature MRI for the clinical/research industry; and Pneumedicare (Yokneam, Israel) – a system for continuous monitoring of lung ventilation in mechanically ventilated patients. It is noteworthy that each of these companies are complex medical devices with a variety of engineering elements intertwined to create a successful and clinically needed product.
Conference partnerships with global leaders
From a high-level clinical perspective, the Cleveland Clinic (Cleveland) was represented as a partner in a full conference track relating to the direction of healthcare in the U.S. At the conference, The Cleveland Clinic also announced a broad strategic relationship with one of Israel's top investment groups, Rainbow Medical, and Cleveland's Global Cardiovascular Innovation Center (GCIC, Cleveland). The relationship would ensure a continuum of engineering and clinical research collaboration between top engineers in Israel, and world renowned U.S. clinicians, to create optimally designed medical products. Thomas Sudow, GCIC Director of Business Development, summarized the collaboration for MDD: "A unique opportunity for three powerhouses to combine forces for the best in engineering innovation for the clinical community."
An additional Key Opinion Leader perspective was created as a joint session between ILSI and the Dallas Leipzig International Valve Group (Dallas and Leipzig, Germany) of clinicians. The session was dedicated to the world of cardiac surgery and valves, and extended a welcoming hand to a number of Israeli startups seeking feedback from the world-renowned U.S./European/Israeli surgeons on the panel. Israeli device companies presenting at this select event included: Vascular Dynamics (Herzliyya, Israel), developing an implantable stent-like device to treat hypertension by correction of inflexible arterial motion; and Realview Imaging (Yokneam, Israel), a company developing a three-dimensional interactive hologram for improved planning and management of structural interventional procedures.
One participant explained the immense value of the above session: "Such a forum presents an amazing opportunity – the proximity of the highest quality scientist, engineer and clinician in the same room, and the immediate and frank feedback that such an experience offers". Regarding Israeli medtech developments generally, many say that the compact and highly networked Israel environment is a major contributor in the effective development of so many creative ideas. "So the ILSI Biomed Conference is perhaps a microcosm of Israel's bio industry, which is itself a microcosm of the world medical industry", the inspired onlooker shared with MDD.