June 22, 2009, Updated September 13, 2012

BioRap was just one of the many Israeli companies that participated in the ILSI-Biomed Israel 2009 Conference in Tel Aviv.


What started as a showcase of Israel biotech companies eight years ago, has become an essential pit stop on the international biotech circuit. Last week an estimated 6,000 people from around the world, and Israel, landed in Tel Aviv for the three day Biomed conference, officially known as the ILSI BioMed Israel 2009.

Dozens of representatives from American states came to set up booths in the hopes of attracting Israeli entrepreneurs and seasoned life scientists to do business with the United States.

Out of an estimated 900 Israeli biotech companies, a large percentage of them eventually end up planting roots in the US to meet rigorous US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) regulatory standards, essential for any biotech company to access the US market. Creating jobs in the US, the strong presence of Israel in states like Georgia, and Maryland has grown to a mutually beneficial affair.

This could be witnessed in the exhibition hall of the Biomed conference where states from Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan and more had set up booths to attract Israeli business.

Biotech investments up seven percent

There is big business in biotech, and in Israel in particular, with no signs of it slowing down despite a global recession. By the first quarter of this year already, exports from Israel’s life sciences industry — including medical equipment, devices and pharmaceuticals, rose up to $1.7 billion, some seven percent higher than the same quarter in 2008, according to the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute.

The main jump was due to a sharp rise in pharmaceutical exports, up about 27%. Celebrating this and more, the Biomed event hinged around several exhibition halls, and also featured a world-class conference. It attracted young entrepreneurs as well – those who are encouraged to get an early start to learn about companies that can help them with litigation, clinical trials and setting up offices in the United States and other countries.

Every year there is something important to learn. This time around the headlining event was a conference on stem cells, the International Stem Cell Meeting, called ‘Stem cells: biology and clinical applications’.

Israel is one of the world’s most fertile areas for stem cell research due to legislation, and a high percentage of researchers pursuing this target to treat and cure diseases. Brainstorm, for example, is one of the most well known companies in Israel in this field.

“To continue the tradition of the previous two meetings, this year too, some of the most prominent scientists worldwide will come together to present their latest discoveries and to address multifaceted core issues relating to stem cells,” announced the conference chair Dr. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa.

Talks revolved around the immense potential of stem cells in tissue engineering, disease modeling, cell reprogramming, and cell and gene therapy.

Georgia and Washington on their minds

With more than 300 international bioscience companies in the state of Georgia, and 50 Israeli companies with their headquarters there — including Given Imaging, Mazor Surgical Technologies, Alpha Omega and Veritas Venture Partners, the state sees a big value in attracting more Israeli firms to its shores.

“The business climate in Georgia for life science companies is very strong,” says Sherwin Pomerantz, Georgia’s Trade and Investment Representative in Israel. He was at the conference hoping to attract more Israeli companies to Georgia.

Robert Wanerman, an attorney for Epstein Becker & Green in Washington, DC, has been coming to the Biomed event in Israel for several years now. His firm has represented about 30 to 40 Israeli companies over the last five years. Targeting companies that are maturing, “we try to get them to think about [regulatory] issues early on,” he says.

In Israel he sees a lot of smaller companies, which compared to the US are able to get “up and running” with a fraction of the capital. In Israel, he says, “there is more activity at that lower level. If you can get something faster, more efficient, and has a better outcome, it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

This year, compared to last, he sees more attendees, and more early stage companies who are coming to learn about the market. To find business, his firm relies on word of mouth recommendations, often from incubators in Israel.

Going for Maryland

One Israeli incubator that always has something interesting cooking is Misgav, which raised $23 million in 2008, and represents firms such as the orthopedic implant company Scorpion Surgical and Dune Medical for improving success during tumor removal operations.

A colleague of Wanerman’s, Barry E. Bogage, the executive director of the Maryland/Israel Development Center says that every Israeli company eventually comes to Maryland because of the FDA, which is headquartered there.

In biotech, and defense technologies, particularly for industries catering to the police and fire departments, Israel and Maryland fit like a glove, making it easy for Bogage to find partners on both sides for co-developing technology.

Successful pairs include OHK Medical Devices, a device company that makes tourniquets, and ETView for intubating and imaging lungs. This second company got to the FDA in record time mainly due to the connections the Maryland-based office has with local hospitals, says Bogage.

With a delegation of 12 people in tow including potential investors– last year Bogage brought the governor of the state. He says that the conference is “an intense opportunity to see a lot of technology in one spot.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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