One year ago, I was driving through the Negev desert with Nir, my dad’s best friend, army buddy, and former partner in crime picking his brain about his job working as a consultant with some of Israel’s biomedical companies. I asked him what he thought was the most exciting thing happening in Israel right now in the life sciences. He replied with a chuckle, “be more specific”.
His answer provoked great inspiration in me because it implied that choosing just one would prove a task to tough for him. We went on to chat about a few new methods of drug delivery and formulations, which are his specialty and our conversation ended with clear advice; come to Biomed next year.
A month ago I did as he suggested and attended IATI’s Bio-med conference in Tel-Aviv. Biomed, in it’s 12th anual iteration, offers a comprehensive overview of the countries portfolio of biotech, pharmaceutical, and medical device companies. Dubbed a “Start-up Nation”, in the 2009 book of the same name, Israel stayed true to its namesake and delivered a large gamut of upstarts with fascinating strategies and interventions to tackle some of the medical field’s most challenging problems.
One company that really impressed me was Orgenesis. The company focuses on developing a solution for hypoinsulinemia of type 1 and late stage type 2 diabetes. Their promise is to guide differentiation of a patient’s own liver cells to express the phenotype of a pancreas like insulin-secreting cell. Lacking the dangers of rejection in allotransplantation and further autoimmune destruction due to its host derived and cellularly different cell type orgenesis’ technology offers great potential and represents the type of cutting-edge-sci-fi solutions that thrill me. Having shown proof of concept in-vivo and in-vitro along with some nice data this is certainly a company I will be keeping an eye on.
In addition to showcasing a wide array of companies, the conference featured some interesting lectures and panel discussions from industry experts. One notable panel titled “Israel – US teams: A Multidisciplinary Path Towards Commercialization” featured Israeli industry experts with experience working for big pharma companies as well as CEOs of Israeli startups having made the leap “across the pond” to develop operations abroad. The talk really highlighted the value in developing the autonomy of operations abroad to the benefit of joint learning and building trust with your local employees. A great focus was placed on the importance of this strategy specifically with regard to marketing. Hiring and utilizing the knowledge of experienced natives can cue a foreign leader into the particulars and nuanced but critical differences of the wants and needs of customers abroad be it patients or physicians.
While the conference was greatly optimistic showcasing a very impressive group of Israeli companies in the life science sector it was difficult not to notice some of the underlying challenges faced nationally in the industry. Lacking the same financial backing as larger nations, Israel is constantly reaching outside of its borders to fuel the fire burning in the minds of its intellectuals. In this post I will refrain from going into detail on this and other difficulties to focus on the positive and will come back to this in the future in a more dedicated manner.
The take away; the level of inspiration and quality is present and overwhelming but a lot of challenges still exist for Israeli companies along the path of converting top notch science into worldwide solutions. Considering the degree of innovation and creativity of it is only a matter of time before the industry develops sturdier footing and furthers its autonomy.There are steps being made already to address these challenges which I will be talking about in subsequent posts.
What a great appetizer – Thanks Biomed! Next course to come…