BioWorld International Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel - The Israel National Biotechnology Steering Committee released data last week showing a 33 percent growth in biotechnology sales in 2000 compared to 1999, when sales - mostly for export - reached $600 million from 135 companies with a total of 3,800 employees.

Year 2000 biotechnology sales reached $800 million, from 160 firms that employed a total of 4,000 workers, said Talia Ben-Neriah, the committee's coordinator who prepared the report.

The bulk of sales revenues came from Israel's two homegrown multiple sclerosis drugs: Teva Pharmaceuticals Ltd.'s Copaxone and Interpharm Ltd.'s Rebif (recombinant bulk human interferon-beta-1).

Teva reported year 2000 Copaxone sales of $247 million, up 48 percent from 1999, accounting for some $119 million of the total $800 million in Israeli biotechnology sales. Most of Interpharm's 2000 direct revenues of $58.8 million came from the sales of Rebif from the total year 2000 sales of $254 million by parent company Serono SA, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.

Michel Revel, steering committee head and a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, noted, "The entire stock of Rebif is produced in Israel, and the sales of $254 million are the fruits of Israeli biotechnology. Interpharm is a fully owned subsidiary of Serono carrying a Serono Interpharm logo."

Sales in pharmaceuticals accounted for 71.5 percent of the biotechnology sector, up from 66.9 percent in 1999. Sales from agrotech products accounted for 18.3 percent of the sector, slightly down from 22.8 percent in 1999, despite the increase in the number of agrotechnology companies to 54 in 2000 from 48 in 1999.

Sales of medical diagnostics improved slightly, counter to the international trend, with the addition of two new companies for a total of 35 firms in 2000, ringing in 4.7 percent of total biotechnology revenues vs. 3.9 percent in 1999.

The number of start-ups in biotechnology rose to 25, up from 16 in 1999, all of which were in the medical sector. Twenty-one of them also are involved in developing platforms, proprietary methods to reduce the development time for specific drugs.

These data fulfill projections made by the international consulting firm Monitor Co. on the Israeli biotechnology industry, which estimated sales in the biotechnology sector would reach $790 million in the year 2000 and $1.8 billion by 2003.

Carmel Vernia, chief scientist of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, announced plans with the release of the report to convene a gathering of experts from academia, government and industry "to discuss ways to advance this promising sector," to help incubator initiatives, and to promote a biopharmaceutical research consortium among technology companies and between business and academia. The initiative is named Pharma Logica and will be headed by Itzhak Angel, vice president for research and development at Rehovot-based D-Pharm Ltd.

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