Israeli biotech shines a ‘light’ on investment opportunities

Bio-Light CEO Dr. Ami Eyal: Each product is targeting a separate market – with blockbuster potential.Biotech investors who only track the US and European stock exchanges to the exclusion of the Tel Aviv listings may be missing out some fast-growing …

Bio-Light CEO Dr. Ami Eyal: Each product is targeting a separate market – with blockbuster potential.Biotech investors who only track the US and European stock exchanges to the exclusion of the Tel Aviv listings may be missing out some fast-growing opportunities. In recent years close to 30 Israeli life science companies have started to trade on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE). They follow in the giant footsteps of Jerusalem’s Teva Pharmaceuticals (TEVA), the largest generics company in the world to trade both on the TASE and NASDAQ.

One promising new venture is Bio-Light Life Science Investments (BOLT.TA), a holding company with technologies for treating obesity, glaucoma, asthma and diagnosing cancer. All four of the individual Bio-Light companies are in or approaching clinical trials.

One of Bio-Light’s portfolio companies, Obecure, is developing Histalean TM, a drug for weight management that recently was tested on obese patients in a Phase II study. The US study showed that the drug was more effective on women than men, with pre-menopause women (under the age of 50) showing an especially significant weight loss in comparison to the placebo group. The company plans a Phase IIB study for obese pre-menopausal women patients in early 2008.

“All the currently marketed anti-obesity drugs have serious side effects which limit their use,” says Obecure CEO Yaffa Beck, who points out that Histalean TM is based on an active ingredient that has been used extensively for another indication (vertigo) in more than 100 million people, with an excellent safety record.

In other studies Obecure is collaborating with the NIH and Eli Lilly. The study supported by Eli Lilly is a Phase II trial to see if Histalean TM can prevent the weight gain often experienced by patients taking the anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa. The market here is enormous, as about one percent of the US population is currently taking anti-psychotic medications costing about $7 billion, and Eli Lilly has had to pay out more than $500 million in patient lawsuits as a result of related weight gain.

A second Bio-Light company, IOPtima, is developing a laser-based technology to treat glaucoma and similarly expects to reach major milestones within the next 12 months. The company plans to begin a clinical trial in Mexico in December, which will expand to include major ophthalmology centers in the US and Europe in early 2008. IOPtima expects its therapy to become the gold standard for glaucoma treatment, a $3 billion market that currently includes both medications and surgery.

“Medications are not always efficacious, and often fail due to poor patient compliance, as two or three different types of eye drops need to be taken two or three times a day, permanently,” says Joshua Degani, IOPtima’s CEO, pointing out that he expects IOPtima’s non-penetrating technology to overcome the risk of infections and other complications associated with the common invasive glaucoma surgery.

Allergica, also listed under the Bio-Light name, is developing a platform technology for allergy and inflammation, has completed formulation development and is now pursuing pre-clinical toxicology evaluation, for entry into Phase I/II safety trials for asthma and a skin allergy in humans in late 2008.

“Allergica’s technology is a based on a novel paradigm for treating allergy and inflammation, with a wide ranging from asthma to atopic dermatitis to hay fever,” points out Ronit Gross, Bio-Light’s Director of Business Development.

The final Bio-Light company Zetiq is targeting the cancer diagnostics market, with a technology that could replace tests currently in use, such as the Pap smear which is used on more than 100 million women each year. Zetiq plans to conduct a pilot study for cervical cancer for early 2008 and a clinical study later that year.

Dr. Ami Eyal, Bio-Light’s CEO points out that the strength of the Bio-Light portfolio lies both in its diversification and its advanced stage of product development. “Each product is targeting a separate market – with blockbuster potential,” he said.

(Reprinted with permission of BioHealth Investor)

Slashdot It!