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Breakthrough Dividend: Chapter 11 - Human Health


Israel has four world-class medical schools, 1,200 ambulatory clinics and 12,000 practicing physicians -- all for a population of five million! Israel's research community is equally health conscious; over half of all Israeli articles in scientific journals are related to medicine. Israeli scientists were world pioneers in using amniocentesis, culturing human white blood cells and producing commercial amounts of beta interferon and ultra-pure antibodies in culture. These techniques are now in standard use worldwide.

More recently, Israeli scientists have:

  • Transferred functioning human bone marrow cells to mice to create laboratory animals that can produce human antibodies;

  • Found the damaged muscle protein that leads to myasthenia gravis;

  • Developed tissue culture models for autoimmune disease;

  • Isolated the gene responsible for Gaucher's disease;

  • Discovered that cancer cells can be induced to revert to normal, nonmalignant behavior; and

  • Developed a treatment, using "decoy" molecules, that is 90 percent effective in preventing juvenile-onset diabetes in animal models.

This chapter does not dwell on these past successes of Israeli health-related science and biotechnology. Instead, we will concentrate on new discoveries, opportunities and products still under development, at least some of which will be tomorrow's success stories.

Various phases of this research are being done in academic departments and research centers (Chapter 6n industry and in Israeli hospitals and clinics. Many major hospitals are affiliated with local university medical schools and have active programs of clinically-oriented biomedical research and testing.

This section provides examples of new Israeli biotechnology products and procedures that monitor, protect, improve or restore human health. Of the five main health-related subdivisions in our classification (Table 2), three -- diagnostics, therapeutics and hormones/enzymes -- are major emphases at the university commercialization unit level. For example, YISSUM is currently promoting 19 projects involving diagnostics, therapeutics and hormones/enzymes respectively (40-50 percent of its current biotechnology opportunities). Genetic manipulation, which has major applications in plants and animal breeding, is limited to cell-therapy in humans (Chapter 16). True gene replacement therapy in humans, given its extraordinary technical, regulatory and ethical requirements, is still too far in the future to have many current commercializable opportunities.

Conversely, the industrial production of immunoactive agents such as interferons and interleukins was a major Israeli success in the recent past, but most applied R&D in this area is now done in biotech industries, as part of expanding their product lines. Similarly, industry now supports most antibody and ELISA diagnostic test kit R&D, while university researchers are moving on to genetic DNA/RNA-based diagnostics. In short, whole fields, as well as specific products, move up the university-to-industry chain as they mature.