BioWorld International Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel — The plans of the Ministry of Science, Culture & Sport for a new National Institute for Biotechnology at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba are likely to be thwarted in view of the current budget crisis in the Israeli government.

The tens of millions of dollars needed to establish the center are not likely to be made available in this budget climate, said university spokesman Amir Rozenblit.

Philip Needleman, senior executive vice president and chief scientific officer of Pharmacia Corp. in Peapack, N.J., has been appointed special adviser to the university president for research and development and has joined the advisory committee for the creation of the biotech institute, which was approved in October 2000 and launched by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in May 2001.

Needleman, who helped create a new class of anti-arthritis drugs eventuating in Celebrex, was in Israel this week for a meeting of the advisory committee. “I volunteered to share my experience and energy in building a National Institute of Biotechnology, a worthy project that I would like to help advance, after learning about the work at the Ben Gurion University in the Negev, the opportunities and challenges in studying genetic bases and the chance to modify disease,” he said.

The implications for improving societal health and advancing business potential in Israel is clear,” Needleman said.

Rozenblit said that the university was hopeful that Needleman’s appointment and the distinguished committee, including Nobel Laureate Aaron Klug of Cambridge University, Raymond Dwek of Oxford University, Israel’s Haim Aviv and other leading scientists, will help attract funding from private sources. He was concerned that biotechnology in Israel would likely be disproportionately affected by the budget cuts, but the university decided to push ahead with its plans, making a substantial investment in infrastructure work for the new institute, which will be adjacent to the university’s own Institute for Applied Biosciences.

Science Ministry Chief Scientist Haggit Messer-Yaron lamented that the plans to invest “significant resources in a shared national science infrastructure center would need to be revised as a result of the severe budget cuts.”