Taking science out of the lab and into the market

‘Lots of technologies being studied at universities could be applied and commercialized for the benefit of humans,’ biotech entrepreneur Silvia Lupa Noiman. Maybe other little girls dreamed of becoming ballerinas or movie stars. Silvia Lupa Noiman wanted only to be …

‘Lots of technologies being studied at universities could be applied and commercialized for the benefit of humans,’ biotech entrepreneur Silvia Lupa Noiman. Maybe other little girls dreamed of becoming ballerinas or movie stars. Silvia Lupa Noiman wanted only to be a biologist. When her family moved from Mexico to Israel in 1972, the 16-year-old took that ambition along.

And Noiman grew up to become one of Israel’s top female entrepreneurs, thanks to her fervor for taking scientific discoveries from the university to the marketplace.

“I was always amazed by genetics,” she tells ISRAEL21C. “And I actually did start by studying molecular genetics. Everything else was built on that.”

Currently president and CEO of Reperio Pharmaceuticals, Noiman previously founded Predix Pharmaceuticals, one of Israel’s most productive and lucrative biotech companies. In 2006, the six-year-old Predix was acquired by the American company Epix Pharmaceuticals for $90 million.

But Noiman was hardly an overnight success. Her career was prefaced by two years of army service and many years of schooling – 15 at Tel Aviv University alone.

She followed up a bachelor’s degree in 1982 with masters’ degrees in zoology and business, pausing for a year of research on the population genetics of flour beetles before beginning her doctoral studies. In 1991, she earned her PhD at Tel Aviv University’s medical school on the molecular biology of the retrovirus, the viral group that includes HIV.

From AIDS to cystic fibrosis

In the midst of her education, Noiman also started a family. She married Avi Noiman at the end of her freshman year of college and had two children — Keren in 1981 and Yair four years later.

Eager to start applying the knowledge she’d gained, Noiman spent 1992 developing educational information kits for the Israel AIDS task force. Then, while working at Tel Hashomer Hospital, she developed a widely used technique for diagnosing cystic fibrosis during pregnancy.

After three years of post-doctoral study at the Weizmann Institute of Science and two years as manager for the Israeli National Biotechnology Committee, Noiman incorporated herself and began exploring practical needs in biotechnology.

“There are lots of technologies being studied at universities that, with a little more research, could be applied and commercialized for the benefit of humans,” she says.

In 1998, she found what she was looking for: a Tel Aviv University project using computational technology to facilitate the development of new drugs.

By 2000, Noiman was in business. A year later, she established a US subsidiary of Predix and continued managing the company from Israel, growing it from five to 100 employees and $250 million in assets. At the time of its merger with Epix, Predix had brought four drugs from the idea stage to clinical trials in just six years.

Success begins in the lab

Her success is owed more to her time in the lab than to her MBA, she says.

“Business in biotech is different from other business because it is all driven by science. And I’m a different kind of manager because I’m always thinking like a scientist. I think ahead and solve problems before they actually happen,” she explains.

Now at the helm of Reperio in her hometown of Herzliya, Noiman is developing pharmaceuticals for chronic neuropathic pain. “My goal is to grow the company here and use my knowledge and experience to help other biotech entrepreneurs to grow their companies here,” she says, citing the small country’s extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit.

Despite her professional responsibilities, Noiman manages to work out with a personal trainer, read novels, and attend theater and ballet with her husband, who owns a printing firm established by his grandfather.

Yair Noiman is following a similar path as his mother, studying computational science and economics at Tel Aviv University. Keren, a restaurateur, lives on a Caribbean island near Cancun. Idyllic though that sounds, her mother is not joining her anytime soon.

“Personally, I’m committed to living in Israel,” she says. “I don’t see myself living anywhere else.”

About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.