Comprehensive coverage

Since 95, the state has invested 62.1 million D in biotechnology

About 4,000 people are employed in the biotechnology industry in Israel. In Monitor's estimation, the volume of sales of the Israeli industry can be increased to 2-3% of the volume of the entire global industry

by Naama Kopelman
Photo: Reuters

The Japanese biotechnology company DNA Bank began marketing pendants containing a DNA sample taken from the purchaser of the pendant and treated with alcohol in order to become visible. The company hopes that loving couples will exchange pendants as genetic love gifts

Today, the first full draft of the private and public Human Genome Project will be published. In a press conference that will be held in Washington and will be broadcast on the Internet worldwide, scientists are expected to describe the latest research results. Additional press conferences will be held in London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo, and the details of the research will be published this week in a file of more than 12 articles in the journals "Science" and "Nature".

The publication date is a symbolic and practical landmark: deciphering the sequence of "letters" in human DNA is just the beginning, as researchers still have a lot of work to do in locating genes (according to estimates, 150-30 genes) and understanding their role.

Is the Israeli biotechnology industry ready to face the challenge and compete with companies from all over the world that will be established on the basis of the human genome project? This largely depends on the scope of support and investments in the field. In total, in the years 95-2000, the State of Israel invested 62.1 million dollars in encouraging the local industry. Of this amount, the Ministry of Science invested 19.9 million dollars, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade invested 42.2 million dollars through the Office of the Chief Scientist, of which 12 million dollars in 2000.

As a result of these investments, an industry has grown in Israel which, in the opinion of many, does not realize the potential inherent in the country's research institutions. From the data of the National Committee for Biotechnology in the Ministry of Science it appears that between the years 95-2000 the number of biotechnology companies in Israel almost doubled, growing from 87 to 160. The number of people employed in the field increased from 2,840 workers in 95 to about 4,000 workers in 2000. Sales volumes tripled from about 209 million dollars in 95 to about 600 million dollars in 99.

According to the assessment of the company Monitor, which tested the Israeli potential in the field, it is possible to reach a biotechnological industry with the scope of ten thousand workers by 2010. According to the company's assessment, the volume of sales of the Israeli industry may reach 2-3% of the sales volume of the entire global industry, which will reach about 100 billion dollars at the end of the decade.

It is worth noting that in addition to government investments, private funds and venture capital were also invested in the industry, but their scope is not always accurately measured. The Money Tree survey, conducted in collaboration with Price-Waterhouse-Coopers and Kesselman and Kesselman and which follows the venture capital industry in Israel, reports that in the first half of 2000 the funds invested 13 million dollars in biotechnology companies in Israel - 2 million dollars in the first quarter and 11 million dollars in the second quarter. The company did not refer to the biotechnology sector separately regarding the second half of the year.

According to the chief scientist at the Ministry of Science, Prof. Hagit Maser-Yeron, the Ministry allocates a certain amount for investments in biotechnology only. This, in contrast to the Ministry of Taxation, which invests according to estimated viability without reference to the fields of activity. "The money was poured into the development of infrastructure centers surrounded by relevant research projects that rely on the centers and violate them," she said.

The genome revolution

The results of the human genome project received the nickname "The Book of Life", because understanding the activity of genes allows, perhaps, to decipher the secrets of life. The project aims to determine the order of the nucleic acids (sequencing) that make up the genes. The Israeli company CompuGen, which is traded on Nasdaq at a value of 183 million dollars, operates in the field considered to be the stage after gene sequencing: it locates genes based on experimental information and public and private databases.

Lior Maayan, VP at the Israeli Compugen, said that companies like Compugen "are able to understand where the genes are within the raw genomic information." According to him, "CompuGen has a good map of the human genome. The focal point for creating drugs is the proteins," he said. In this field, the company has developed a unique technology called Leads, which is considered one of the most advanced in the world.

Prof. Max Herzberg, president of the investment company Eager-Biogroup, which invests in biotechnology companies, said that CompuGen "rides the wave of genomics and has taken an international place in a very competitive field." In the past year, Iger-Biogroup has invested about 5 million dollars in six Israeli biotechnology companies.

According to Herzberg, who also serves as a researcher at the Weizmann Institute and a member of the National Committee for Biotechnology, the prominent biotechnology companies in Israel include, among others, the company General Biotechnology, which developed genetic engineering technology and products such as the hepatitis B vaccine, the company Interpharm, which developed an antiviral agent through genetic engineering, the company Orge Nix Diagnostics, which operates in the field of AIDS testing, and Crix, which operates in the field of drug discovery (Drug Discovery) based on a unique technique. "These companies prove that there are no small successes in the Israeli biotechnology industry," he said.

Other prominent companies operating in Israel are D-Pharm, which improves existing drugs through a change that allows them to act only in the target tissue and not in healthy tissues; XTL develops vaccines and drugs for diseases where a person's immune system attacks their own body; Teva manufactures medicines and developed the drug copaxone against multiple sclerosis; Peptor develops medicines and registered an important patent to improve the stability of medicines.'
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 12/2/2001}

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.