from the February 2002 issue

L'Chaim, L'Chaim........ to Life!

When an Israeli raises a glass, the toast is not "cheers!", "bottoms up!" , or "prosit", or "nazdrowie" but simply L'Chayim. The literal translation of L'Chayim is "to Life". However, behind every common day colloquialism there is a deep culturally rooted origin. The word life appears more than 400 times in the Old Testament. As early as in the second chapter of Genesis the subject of life is brought to our attention: "the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Israeli youngsters are taught the Bible and by the time they grow up it is a part of their code of behavior.

It is therefore no surprise that the number of applicants for places in Israeli medical schools far exceed spaces available or that Israel holds the world's record for the highest number of doctors per capita in any country. The logic is that doctors save lives.

Medicine and biotechnology are closely linked.
Biotechnology focuses on the development of pharmaceuticals that are intended to cure major ills such as cancer, MS and AIDS. There has been a significant increase in the number of students enrolled in the life sciences related university programs, The government's support of the sector, including plans to establish two incubators dedicated to biotechnology companies, and the establishment of the National Institute for Biotechnology, located in the Negev are proof of the trend. If even a part of the Government's $450 million promised support for biotechnology is realized, it will give the sector additional momentum to move ahead.

According to Ernst and Young's annual industry report, total funds raised for the Israel life sciences sector rose to $293 million in 2001, an increase of 43 percent over the previous year. Israel currently ranks second in total number of medical-technology start-ups globally, sharing its position only with the United States and trailing Canada. Israel has 160 biotechnology companies, employing approximately 4000 people.

At the request of a visiting managing director of a technology transfer company in Australia, we met managers 20 of life science companies. It became clear that the sector is vibrant at all stages, whether at start up, technology incubator or visible products and at marketing stages.

Orgenics Ltd., a diagnostic kit company, is a developer and marketer of infectious disease kits for use in developing countries. These are "rapid" tests for identifying AIDS and Hepatitis and are sold in 80 countries.

At NovaMed production was being geared up to increase the productive capacity of an innovative urinary disease "dipstick" test. At BioPure the reverse osmosis principle developed at the Weizmann Institute, was being applied to municipal water treatment facilities.

At Dispomedic Industries in Dimona, clean rooms were in use to sterilize the company patented safety syringes.

Biotechnology in the style of the third millennium, included Jerusalem based IntelliGene with a platform technology which was granted 10 patents for their selective targeting for gene therapy. The company's technology allows for the targeting of "sick" cells, while sparing the healthy ones.

Ernst & Young predicts that sales from that the sector will rise to $3 to $4 billion within the next five to seven years, from $800 million in 2001. Israel's fast and cost-effective development cycle has been cited as a key advantage relative to U.S. counterparts and is drawing investment funds from various parts of the world into this country.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report February 2002

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