Israeli biotech keeps raising the bar

140 new developments in a range of fields from biotechnology to nanotechnology, medicine and medical equipment, were unveiled by Israeli companies at the BioTech exhibition.Israeli biopharmaceutical start-up, Vascular Biogenics Ltd. (VBL), has developed a new genetic treatment that it claims …

140 new developments in a range of fields from biotechnology to nanotechnology, medicine and medical equipment, were unveiled by Israeli companies at the BioTech exhibition.Israeli biopharmaceutical start-up, Vascular Biogenics Ltd. (VBL), has developed a new genetic treatment that it claims can cut off the oxygen supply to cancerous tumors in the body causing them to shrink dramatically, or even disappear completely, without any negative side-effects to the patient.

The new treatment, GT-111, which was unveiled at the BioTech Israel 2003 conference in Tel Aviv last week, is based on a genetic charge that destroys the endothelial cells that build the blood vessels and supply oxygen to a cancerous tumor and its metastases. Without oxygen the tumor begins to shrink in size.

Every year more than 1.3 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed in the US alone, and more than 550,000 people die of cancer every year, according to Eyal Breitbart, head of VBL’s biology division. “Since metastatic cancer is the second largest mortality factor in the Western world, the number of patients who would benefit from the treatment is very high,” says Breitbart.

Current treatments are based on killing the tumor’s cells through chemotherapy, radiation and hormone treatments. These all have severe side effects, and in some cases as a result patients resist treatment. Breitbart, however, says that VBL’s treatment has no side effects because it is not targeted at carcinogenic cells, but at the blood vessels that allow the metastases to grow.

The treatment has already been tested successfully in animals and is likely to go to clinical trials towards the end of this year. It can be administered by intravenous injection or infusion rather than by local injection directly to the tumor, and can be used alongside traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

VBL was founded in 2000, based on years of academic research at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv. The Or Yehuda company recently raised $2 million at a company value of $15m., before investment. It has also recently signed a collaboration agreement for its tissue engineering technology with MIT in Boston, Massachusetts.

VBL’s treatment was one of 140 new developments in a range of fields from biotechnology to nanotechnology, medicine and medical equipment, unveiled by Israeli companies at the BioTech exhibition held at the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center last week.

Incubator company Palsamed, for example, has developed a botanical based drug that it claims can reduce cholesterol in the bloodstream. High cholesterol levels play a significant role in the increase of heart disease, strokes and other cardiovascual illnesses. The most common treatment today are statin drugs, which, though effective, have major side effects such as memory loss, personality changes and muscle pain. Palsamed’s drug compound is derived from edible plants indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean region and has less potential for harmful side effects.

The company, which operates out of the Misgav Carmiel Technology Incubator in the Galilee, is now approaching clinical trials. It believes its compound will be compatible with statin drugs and can be used to reduce the high dose of these drugs, thereby limiting harmful side effects.

Topimed, a start-up operating out of the Ashkelon Technological Incubator, has developed a new medical preparation to treat degenerative skin damage like wrinkles, which result from natural aging and radiation from the sun. The new preparation, which combines the DIK-60 hormone with an active carrier that can deliver the hormone to specific skin targets, acts on both the dermal and the epidermal cells. The company claims that, unlike existing products now on the market, the preparation can heal the internal skin layers and result in improved appearance.

An estimated two million Americans suffer from degenerative skin damages and the market for treatments against wrinkles and other degenerative damages is an estimated $5 billion a year.

Life science start-up Metabogal, which employs 16 scientists, has developed a plant cell culture technology and bioreactor system for efficient, large-scale production of complex human therapeutic proteins. The company, which has collaborative agreements with leading genome research firm Compugen and its subsidiary Evogene, enables these important proteins to be developed at a fraction of the cost of producing proteins from mammalian cell bioreactor systems.

Metabogal’s David Aviezer told delegates at a lecture on emerging companies, that the protein market is today booming and that in years to come, the medical industry will face a “severe shortage” of therapeutic proteins. Aviezer also revealed that the company is now developing and commercializing its own proprietary product line of therapeutic proteins and is now focusing heavily on an enzyme replacement treatment for Gaucher’s Disease, which particularly affects Ashkenazi Jews.

Other developments also unveiled at the conference include a system that monitors moles that might indicate melanoma skin cancer, developed by Medvision; a next-generation wound care system developed by Enzy Surge; BioPack’s natural insect repellent for food packaging; and an orthopaedic device that alleviates pressure exerted on the knees while walking, developed by Granot incubator Ortech.


About Nicky Blackburn

Editor and Israel Director, Nicky Blackburn has worked extensively as a journalist and editor both in Britain and Israel for a range of national and international publications including The Cambridge Evening News, London News, Travel Weekly, Israel High Tech Investor, and The Times of London. She was the Associate Editor at LINK Israel’s Business and Technology Magazine, and the High-Tech Correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.