BioWorld International Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel - Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., ranked as the leading biopharmaceutical company in Israel by Ernst & Young at its Third Annual Life Science Conference in Tel Aviv last week, laid out plans to establish a center for young companies developing biotechnological approaches to drug discovery and creation.

The intention is to involve other investors, and money from a foreign drug manufacturer, as well as government involvement, said Teva Chief Operating Officer Israel Makov. "The center will operate as a venture capital fund anticipated to invest up to $150 million in biotech start-ups," he said.

Negotiations with prospective partners are "well under way" involving some tens of millions of dollars from each participant, with a long-term view of seven to 10 years.

Part of the center would be virtual, allowing companies to remain in other locations. Teva intends to complete the planning stage and to start implementation by the end of 2001.

In its earning report, Teva said that fourth-quarter net income increased by 44 percent. Teva Chief Financial Officer Dan Suesskind said that Copaxone, its multiple sclerosis drug, now commands a 26 percent European market share, the second largest for an MS treatment. Fourth-quarter sales increased 48 percent to $72.7 million. For all of 2000, Copaxone's sales reached $247 million, a 54 percent increase over 1999.

Teva concluded separate marketing agreements of Copaxone with Aventis Pharmaceuticals Inc. and H. Lundbeck A/S, under which Teva Marion Partners (TMP), an equally owned marketing partnership formed in 1995 between Teva and Aventis to promote Copaxone in North America, will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Teva, to be renamed Teva Neuroscience LLC. According to the agreement, Aventis will continue to distribute Copaxone in North America.

The Tel Aviv Life Sciences meeting organized by Ernst & Young affiliate Kost Forer Gabbay, the Israel Biotechnology Organization and Globes' Yizzum, attracted 650 attendees.

Ernst & Young reported that in 2000, venture capital investment in Israeli life sciences reached $200 million, triple the amount in 1999, and split 35 percent in biotechnology and 65 percent in medical devices.

The Tel Aviv-based accountancy firm Deloitte Touche Brightman Almagor published estimates that the aggregate value of Israeli biotechnology companies is $2.5 billion, and climbing. It ranked the five highest market-valued biotechnology companies as Bio-Technology General Ltd., InterPharm Ltd., Keryx Biopharmaceuticals Ltd., XTL Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. and Quark Biotech Inc.

Israel has 96 biotechnology start-ups registered with the National Committee on Biotechnology.

Yosef Yarden, of the Weizmann Institute of Sciences in Rehovot, speaking at the Israel National Academy of Sciences symposium, noted that the biotechnology sector, which employed 600 Israeli workers in 30 firms a decade ago, now has 3,500 employees in 135 companies, and by the end of this decade, could reach 15,000 workers in 500 companies with annual earnings of $5 billion.