from the August 2010 issue

Life sciences become big business in Israel

Life science industry figures mingle at the Tel Aviv ILSI-BioMed conference, which had more than 7,000 people from around the world, June 2010

Yaron Aizenbud lays out in neat rows a set of patented titanium tools designed for back surgery, picks out a curved drill that matches the curve of a spine and a plastic model of vertebrae, and simulates how the drill is used to stabilize a damaged spine.

Aizenbud and the other founders of the small Israeli start-up Scorpion Surgical Technologies hope their medical devices will become a new solution for back operations, particularly for people with osteoporosis, in some cases even eliminating the need for replacing ruptured discs.

Scorpion Surgical was among the hundreds of companies displaying their wares in a maze of rooms and bright lights at a recent biotech and life sciences convention in Tel Aviv. Among them were firms with home-grown advances in cell and gene therapy, imaging and heart disease drugs.

Aizenbud, a veteran of Israeli high-tech who has worked for IBM, Amdocs and a host of start-ups, spoke of the special satisfaction in switching gears to the life sciences.

"You feel the difference in what you are doing," he said. "This is about contributing something to the public."

The field of life sciences, an umbrella term that refers to medical devices, pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, has become big business in Israel. There are more than 1,000 companies, and another 80 join the field every year, according to industry estimates.

Last year, life sciences accounted for $6 billion in Israeli exports, mostly to the United States, making it one of Israel's biggest exports.

Israel tops the list of countries in medical device patents per capita and is fourth in the world for biotechnology patents per capita.

Observers credit Israel's success in this extremely competitive market to the nurturing ecosystem the country has produced to foster life sciences innovation. The ecosystem brings together a combination of top research at Israel's universities that transfers to companies, many of which get their start in state-subsidized "incubators." In 2000, the government designated life sciences a priority sector.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report August 2010

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