President Shimon Peres opens the ILSI Biomed 2008 conference in Tel Aviv.Not even closing a billion dollar deal could keep Barry Greene from attending Israel’s annual BioMed conference held last week in Tel Aviv.

Greene, CEO of leading US biotech company Alnylam, was still in the midst of final negotiations with Takeda, Japan’s largest drugmaker when he left the US in order to be a keynote speaker at the conference.

Greene carried out the final stages of what turned out to be an eye-popping $1 billion deal over the phone from his hotel room in Tel Aviv.

In an interview with ISRAEL21c, Greene pointed out that he considers Israel to be a leading center of biotechnology innovation. “We already have done a deal with one Israeli company in the RNAi field, Quark, and we are eager to create breakthrough alliances with other leading partners.”

Greene was not the only high-powered industry leader to attend the conference.
Also present was a delegation of leading Ohio biotech executives that included Tom Sudow, vice president of the Cleveland Clinic; John Lewis, vice president of BioOhio, the main membership organization for over 230 biotech companies in Ohio; and Michael Goldberg of The Bridge Fund, which has spearheaded investments with several Israeli companies.

Vying with the Ohians was a delegation of 30 execs from Maryland led by Governor Martin O’Malley.

One of the Maryland companies is a good example of how Israeli-American collaborations can benefit both countries, explained Eric Richman a VP of PharmAthene in an interview with ISRAEL21c.

“Part of the technology we are using for a vaccine we are developing as a medical countermeasure to bioterrorism, was developed at the Hebrew University. The drug was adopted by the US military, now we are meeting with Israeli military officials about making it available in Israel,” he said.

At the conference, Governor O’Malley stressed that he hoped that Israeli companies would consider Maryland as a base for their US operations.

His invitation bore fruit when BiolineRx, an Israeli company developing a new drug for schizophrenia, announced at the conference that it would be opening a business development office in Maryland.

The two-day conference was opened by President Shimon Peres who called on the government to make biotechnology a national funding priority.

In addition to Greene, other prominent American industry speakers included Dr. H. Weisman of Johnson & Johnson, and Dr. Stephen Oesterle of Medtronic who both spoke about the convergence in the healthcare field of technologies from the medical device, biologic, pharmaceutical, IT, communications and imaging areas.

Mara Aspinall of Genzyme Genetics discussed the challenges of personalized medicine and Dr. G. R. Schwartz of Bristol-Myers Squibb reviewed new horizons in cancer research and treatment.

Dhanajay Patankar, chairman of Biocon, from Bangalore, spoke about opportunities for Israeli companies in India’s emerging biotechnology market.

This year’s event was the best attended ever, with more than 6,000 members of the medical device and bio-pharma industries participating, including about 1,500 from overseas. This marked a 20 percent increase over last year’s attendance figures.

The conference offered 70 highly-promising Israeli start-ups and early stage companies an opportunity to make presentations, and was accompanied by an exhibition area in which 150 industry service providers showcased their wares.

Two parallel events were held during the week: The second International Stem Cell Meeting, and ISRACAS 2008, the 11th Israel symposium on computer-aided surgery, medical robotics and medical imaging.

The keynote speaker at the stem cell meeting was Sir. Prof. Ian Wilmut, leader of the Queen’s Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh, UK.