Medical Device Daily Israel Correspondent
Zichron Ya’akov — Once upon a time there was a tall, impervious barrier separating basic science, whose satisfaction was curiosity, from applied research efforts, developed for and supported (G-d forbid!) by industry.
But today, Israeli academia is reaping its own big gains by turning scientific breakthroughs into hopeful business ventures and product commercialization. Each of Israel’s dozen universities and leading research institutes has its own for-profit technology transfer (TT) office, company or other commercialization arm, run by professionals to persuade faculty to publish, patent and work toward business profit.
These Israeli TT units will now be represented by the Israel Technology Transfer Organization (ITTN), a not-for-profit umbrella organization being launched with the backing of the United States-Israel Science & Technology Foundation (USISTF). Roll-out of the organization was made at the 6th Annual ILSI-Biomed Israel 2007, concluding today at David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel-Aviv.
The leading TT companies have been wining and dining potential investors, licensees and strategic partners at ILSI-Biomed 2007, attracting them to these young opportunities with enormous growth potential.
The lure is inherently attractive: Year 2006 patent royalties in toto were over $100 million annually in Israel, most earned by the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem , from about $1 billion in annual product sales.
The TT company of the Hebrew University is named Yissum (Hebrew for “application” ), with its role of safeguarding one-third of Israel’s academic research, about half of the biomedical investigations.
Yissum and the Weizmann Institute rank among the top 15 TTs in the world, surpassing Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , despite research budgets less than one-sixth their size.
Biomed 2006 reported that over half of Israeli life science developments were medical devices, and this year, ILSI-Biomed 2007 is subtitled “Bio-pharma & Medical devices” to make the message even more emphatic. Each session has been highlighting the combination and convergence of medical devices, diagnostics, biotechnology and information technology, according to Rafi Hofstein, head of Hadasit, the TT office of the Hadassah Medical Organization (Jerusalem), who is Biomed co-chairperson with Ruth Arnon (co-developer of the multiple sclerosis blockbuster drug Copaxone, out of the Weizmann Institute).
Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Martin Buber may have anticipated this marketable bounty in 1925 when they jointly founded the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, following Chaim Weizmann, whose acetone patent legacy helped Britain win World War I, was key in founding the institute in his name (and also prompting the British Empire to issue the Balfour Declaration in 1917, the world’s first official recognition of Zionism, and a return of the Jews to Palestine).
late in 2005, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recruited Nava Swersky Sofer, a veteran with 20 years of investment and commercialization successes in the private sector to head Yissum.
She told Medical Device Daily: “This is a large responsibility and a great opportunity. The Hebrew University produces more than 100 new inventions each year that are owned by Yissum, twice the industry standard per research budget dollar.”
From the outset, Sofer established a new infrastructure and was successful in recruiting high-level professionals. This has paid off: 300 deals were signed in 2006, a 20% increase in revenues.
“We want companies to approach us first when they are looking for new technologies or investment opportunities,” Sofer said. “Running Yissum is a huge challenge and I view it as a form of public service.”
One of the many developments out of Hebrew University is a computerized software and hardware that will make cardiac intervention more science than art. This technology interfaces with the standard equipment in the cath laboratory to virtually freeze the movement of the heart chambers and arteries during diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, while the operator introduces wires, balloon catheters, stents and clippers inside these beating organs as needed to open clogged vessels.
Currently, operator physicians learn through experience to mentally and manually compensate for this movement.
A prototype has been constructed using a pre-recorded loop of a full heart cycle from a diagnostic angiography, a reference calibration showed that a fully automated “freezing” of each scene in the ongoing process is possible.