BioWorld International Correspondent

ZICHRON YAAKOV, Israel - Israel's chief scientist, Eli Opper, is promoting the establishment of R&D centers at Israeli academic institutions for biotechnology, nanotechnology, and areas determined to be national priorities, under the joint direction of the Office of the Chief Scientist, the Ministry of Finance, and VATAT - the Israel Higher Education Planning & Budgeting Council.

"The new plan seeks to lower the high failure rate of early stage biotechnology endeavors, which many analysts ascribe to lack of information transfer between academia and industry. The R&D centers would join forces at the macro level, from planning through all development stages, as needed," Opper told BioWorld International.

One model for R&D centers is the first Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute at the Technion-Israel Institute for Technology, founded earlier this year with a $26 million commitment from New Jersey-based Russell Berrie Foundation and matching funds from the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Last year, med-tech industry pioneer Alfred Mann donated $100 million to the Technion to set up an R&D center that would merge academic research with commercial enterprise "for the benefit of both," he said.

Private efforts need to be joined with public policy and cooperative interaction of academia, industry and the government to create a robust national industry, anywhere in the world, according to Ernst & Young's 19th annual Global Biotech Report.

Ernst & Young Israel Chairman Itzhak Forer, of Kost, Forer, Gabbay and Kasierer, expressed concern that "Israel has not caught up with the biotechnology revival in the U.S. and in the world since the year 2000. A decline in local industry activity can be seen in the amount of investment by venture capital funds: $52 million was invested in 15 deals in biotechnology in 2004, a marginal amount compared with total investment of $1.4 billion in high-tech. And a negligible $12 million was invested in seven deals during the first half of 2005."

Forer told BioWorld International that the high cost and long development time to bring a biotechnology product to market goes far beyond the resources and the life span of most venture capital funds.

Foror felt that the growing trend to transfer segments of various manufacturing and advanced development processes to India, China and Singapore that started in the high tech industry is becoming more prevalent in biotechnology and that it will continue because the governments of those countries are making the appropriate investments in infrastructure, something that Israel has been slower to do.

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