Since the revival of the Arab intifada against Israel in September 2000, when explosions replaced negotiations, the life science and other Israeli technology sectors were thought to be mortally wounded. An attempted academic boycott was to add injury to injury. But the medical technology sector has risen from the ashes: medical device exports from Israel grew by 80% to $937 million, according to Menachem Leib, the healthcare executive director at the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute (IEI). Leib told The BBI Newsletter that this feat was accomplished by hard work, intelligent investment and long-term perspective.
Leib works out of the office of Yair Ofek, deputy director general who addressed the opening session last month of a first-of-its-kind videoconference organized by IEI and the Virginia-Israel Advisory Board (VIAB), in which Lester Crawford, interim FDA commissioner, appeared via interactive video to coach Israeli life science companies on how to bring their products through the U.S. regulatory process. David Feigal, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, and Norman Pressman, chief executive officer and president of MonoGen (Vernon Hills, Illinois), also appeared virtually, providing answers that were quite real.
One of the 100 or so attendees, Walid Haddad, project manager of obesity for Impulse Dynamics Israel (Tirat Hacarmel), told BBI, "We are in the middle of the IDE [investigational device exemption] process. The videoconference answered a lot of my questions, and I feel more confident by understanding what to do next." Haddad, a research scientist who trained at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said that videoconference was quite effective and the answers provided by the U.S. officials "spoke directly to the questions and were very specific." Impulse Dynamics Israel is a privately held technology research center of the Dutch-based Impulse Dynamics group.
In another event signaling technology's resurrection in Israel, the European Tech Tour (ETT), originally planned to have taken place some five months ago, was held in Tel Aviv last month. More than 30 venture capital funds and private investors from around the world were introduced to an approximately equal number of Israeli technology companies, with a large representation from the life sciences. This is the first time that the ETT, an independent, non-profit organization founded in Geneva in 1998 as a means of introducing investors and strategic partners to emerging technology companies in Europe, held a conference outside Europe. Sven Lingjaerde, ETT president and founder, said Israel was an obvious choice for this first-of-its-kind effort because of the high quality of technology the country has to offer.
Tamara Genosar, who presided over the Israeli tech tour, said that the original plan to hold the gathering in November had to be scrapped because registration was low and "the mood in the industry was not particularly positive," in contrast to the current feeling. Genosar, also director of the international department for the high-tech recruitment firm, Nisha Group, noted that many of the delegates to ETT are first-time visitors to Israel.
In another activity last month, the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Foundation (USISTF) began a two-pronged effort to help Israeli life science companies enter the American market and to introduce American companies to the "Israeli opportunity." The USISTF Bridge Program will make its official debut this month, but the LARTA Institute (Los Angeles, California), with LARTA's Israeli partner, ATID-EDI, was in Israel and met with Israeli life sciences entrepreneurs, especially young companies, to deliver executive training via mentoring services.
LARTA Institute Chief Executive Officer Rohit Shukla told BBI, "One of the program's primary goals is to prepare Israeli entrepreneurs to collaborate with U.S. partners and investors. Not just to find them, but to cultivate the relationship with the giant firm, to involve its interest and deliver based on the practical realities of successful partnering." During the second part of the program in mid-June, selected participants will work with LARTA staff in Los Angeles to establish contacts, build relationships and lay the necessary groundwork to set up a base of operations in southern California, Shukla said.
The thrust of growth under the soil, so to speak, emerged earlier in the winter of 2003. For nearly two years, few international conferences were hosted in the besieged country, but the thaw was clear when the first in a global series of International Symposia on Bio-Inspired Engineering (ISBIE), held last December at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (Haifa), hosted scientists, bioengineers, bioentrepreneurs and a smattering of financiers. Meeting chair Ehud Keinan told BBI that "paradigms based on modified and redesigned natural systems have already yielded many new medical devices, biomedical technologies and biopharmaceuticals."
Overall, foreign investment in Israeli companies grew 2.8-fold to $2.25 billion in 2003, and direct investment totaled $3.56 billion, 2.6 times the $1.6 billion of 2002.