BioWorld International Correspondent

ZICHRON YAAKOV, Israel - Hope springs eternal.

Early reports of Serono SA setting up a biotechnology research and development center in Ness Ziona seem to be premature, but not incorrect. Just before New Year's Eve, local Israeli press reported that Serono and the director general of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor had "reached an agreement to open an R&D center" revitalizing and enlarging InterPharm, which was shut down a few months ago, laying off 180 employees and ending production activity that began in 1978.

What remained was a staff of 50, headed by InterPharm General Manager Ezra Ouziel, responsible for dissembling the obsolete plant while continuing to bioengineer clones to produce therapeutic proteins in Serono's areas of interest, and also scouting out other interesting investment opportunities.

Sources close to the InterPharm management confirmed that negotiations started two to three months ago initiated by Israeli diplomats in Switzerland. Israeli Chief Scientist Eli Opper and Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were active in the negotiations, sources said, adding that 50 scientists and staff would be employed to shut down the production line and gear up the R&D center's administration for the next three to six months. Twenty-five employees then would focus on the technological infrastructure for the company's expanded R&D activities. Neither Serono nor the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor were available for comment.

InterPharm has earned billions of dollars during the 25 years since the founding from drugs based on Israeli intellectual property, mainly interferon beta-based Rebif, a treatment for multiple sclerosis, which was created in the Weizmann Institute of Science, and interleukin-6, designed to boost blood cell production.

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