Israeli hospitals aren’t only hubs of healing; they’re also emerging as global hubs of innovation.
What’s driving this trend? Three factors unique to Israel: An aggressive problem-solving approach, a robust innovation infrastructure, and a centralized, digitized healthcare system possessing 25 years of data from cradle-to-grave electronic medical records.
It all adds up to a powerful prescription for curing serious healthcare challenges across the world.
The number of hospital-sponsored innovation centers or healthcare accelerators is believed to be higher per capita in Israel than anywhere else. In the United States, several innovation centers have begun in prominent hospitals including the Mayo Clinic, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Cleveland Clinic and Boston Children’s Hospital.
Of course, Israel also has a robust healthcare accelerator/incubator scene outside of the hospital environment. These programs — among them Trendlines Medical, eHealth Ventures, FutuRx, Alon MedTech Ventures, NGT3, RAD BioMed Accelerator, Samsung Runway and MedXelerator – often have backing from the government and from global healthcare, pharma and medical device companies.
According to Start-Up Nation Central’s 2017-2018 Digital Health Report, the Israeli government also is planning to establish digital health innovation labs.
ARC Innovation Center
The huge amount of patient data accumulated at the government-run Sheba Medical Center, the largest and most comprehensive medical center in the Middle East, underpins the Sheba ARC (Accelerate Redesign Collaborate) Innovation Center.
In 2017, Sheba brought back to Israel Dr. Nathalie Bloch – she earned her medical degree at Tel Aviv University and master of public administration at Harvard University — after 14 years in Boston to build and head ARC with Chief Innovation Officer Dr. Eyal Zimlichman.
Currently, 20 projects spearheaded by Sheba physicians are incubating at ARC. One uses machine learning to track the progression of macular degeneration and predict which treatment is best for each patient. Another uses sensors and a smartphone app to enable discharged cardiology patients to do cardiac rehab at home under remote guidance.
“We’re encouraging and helping physicians come up with their own ideas that we could transform into a real technology,” says Bloch.
Additionally, ARC hosts 11 digital-health startups from outside the hospital, with 20 more about to enter. “We help them design proof-of-concept pilots on data or on patients. There’s always a principal investigator from Sheba leading each project,” says Bloch.
ARC collaborates with companies such as Google, Boston Scientific and J&J Pharma, which mine Sheba’s data to develop digital-health products. ARC also collaborates with domestic and foreign academic institutes — including IDC Herzliya’s new MBA program in healthcare innovation – and will partner with Japan’s OKI Electric Industry in a research project on preventing dementia.
One of the unique aspects of ARC is its partnership with private-sector venture capital fund Triventures of Herzliya. “We also have an office in Silicon Valley and we help Israeli startups commercialize globally,” said Michal Geva, Triventures cofounder and partner.
Triventures-ARC (TV-ARC) raised a $45 million seed fund to invest in promising data-driven health solutions coming out of ARC. Sheba will be entitled to 20% of any future profits.
Triventures cofounder and managing partner Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, an interventional cardiologist in California, said TV-ARC “is a unique and revolutionary model that demonstrates Israel’s rise as a global hub for healthcare innovation as data coalescence and analytics ignites new models for healthcare advances.”
Healthcare innovation in Haifa
Haifa-based MindUP digital-health incubator, founded in 2016, is a joint venture of Rambam Medical Center, Medtronic, IBM, Pitango Venture Capital and Impact 1st Investments. Three-quarters of its funds come from the Ministry of Economy’s Israeli Innovation Authority.
“This is the first time in Israel, and maybe in the world, that a government agency and a hospital are partners in an incubator,” says Dr. Rafi Beyar, director-general of Rambam, which is affiliated with the Technion medical school.
The eight startups currently in MindUP are devising advanced approaches in areas such as cardiovascular diagnosis and blood-flow monitoring; collecting stools for analysis; preventing falls in elderly patients; monitoring and analyzing respiratory function; and measuring eye pressure for glaucoma patients at home.
Over 10 years, MindUP is to form 30 to 40 medical-device and digital-health companies; each gets funding for two years. “In the process of identifying suitable companies, we saw over 300,” Beyar tells ISRAEL21c.
“A hospital gives major value to an incubator like this,” he adds. “We have the professional power to give clinical advice on what will have the best potential, and we serve as a site for evaluation when a company gets to the clinical-trial phase. Also, ideas come up from within the hospital through the Rambam MedTech technology-transfer company.”
The most promising products will be groomed for the US healthcare market at the Biomedical and Digital Health Innovation Center in Atlanta, a new partnership between Rambam and the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Global Center for Medical Innovation.
While MindUP is headquartered offsite, Rambam is building a 20-story on-campus Helmsley Health Discovery Tower to house an innovation initiative also involving the University of Haifa and the Technion, says Beyar, who runs an annual healthcare innovation conference with a partner from Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.
Innovation at Hadassah
Hadassah Medical Center and IBM Israel recently launched a six-month digital-health accelerator for post-seed-stage startups. IBM provides expert advice and free access to tools including the IBM Cloud.
“We will make clinical and research infrastructure accessible to companies in the program, as well as the hospital medical staff and professionals supporting various development aspects,” said Dr. Tamar Raz, CEO of Hadasit, the tech-transfer company of Hadassah Medical Organization.
The new accelerator is housed in the 1,300-square-meter Biohouse workspace opened in June 2018 on Hadassah’s Ein Kerem campus for medical innovation entrepreneurs.
Biohouse is using Hadassah as a pilot location before expanding to additional Israeli hospitals and then internationally, said founder Yaki Zinger. “We bring biomed companies into medical centers and provide them with added value. We also connect the hospitals in Israel and worldwide by creating a community.”
Biohouse CEO Shai Melcer tells ISRAEL21c that Biohouse members include digital-health, medical-device and biopharma startups at all stages, including Gamida Cell (https://www.gamida-cell.com/) and BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics.
“Because Biohouse is a private entity that hooks up with many medical centers, we have a platform that allows us to interact with both internal and external startups,” Melcer says. “Biohouse member companies receive a full support package from the host medical center and whatever else they need, including strategic partnerships with investors and industry.”
Assuta on the cutting edge
Assuta, the largest private hospital network in Israel with eight locations from Haifa to Beersheva, is owned by Maccabi, Israel’s second-largest health-maintenance organization and has a new Ventures and Innovations Division at Assuta Medical Centers. Maccabi’s data from 2.2 million patients is available to the startups accepted into the new ALaunch accelerator at Assuta Tel Aviv.
“Any hospital can offer clinical research and beta sites, but in addition we bring business value through our ALIVE Israel Healthtech Fund,” Prof. Ari Shamiss, CEO of Assuta, tells ISRAEL21c. The fund is raising an initial $50 million to invest in mid- to late-stage companies in medical devices (75%) and digital health (25%).
The first few ALaunch startups are applying big data, AI and machine learning to the fields of IVF, pathology and radiology. “Our most important criterion is how it will offer value to a specific patient or group of patients while reducing cost to the entire ecosystem — for example, more exact biopsies,” says Shamiss.
“Because of our size and volume of services we can cut short the process of regulation and creation of the startup by creating a kind of laboratory in Israel. We can sign commercial agreements with the startups and increase their valuation to give an immediate business benefit. We take part of the financial rights rather than equity.”
Assuta is building strategic partnerships in North America and Europe, including the Junto digital health technology innovation consortium in New York.
Shamiss cites the example of Israeli health cybersecurity startup CyberMDx. “We created a lab for their development and used our network in North America to get them into strategic US hospitals. Usually late-stage Israeli startups struggle to enter the American or European market because they haven’t adapted to those systems.”
Shamiss expects these advantages to shorten the time it takes to get new Israeli technology to patients’ bedside – three to five years instead of seven to 10 years.
Another Israeli hospital fostering innovation is Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, with a medical-device accelerator and innovation workshop under the wing of its Innovation and Tech Transfer Office. The hospital did not respond to our enquiries.