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Israel Innovation Authority and the bioconvegence revolution

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Israel Innovation Authority is an independent, publicly-funded agency responsible for promoting the Israeli economy through investments in innovation and disruptive R&D.

The Authority’s core mission is to sustain Israel’s position as a leading innovation hub and prepare the infrastructure to prepare and enable future technological trends.

Karina Rubinstein heads its Startup Division, where she is responsible for the renowned Incubators Programme. Rubinstein has more than 20 years’ experience in business development working for and with startups, helping them to prepare to enter national and global markets.

“The government has, for many years, been highly committed to investing in innovation across the board,” Rubinstein tells Health Tech World.

“Over the years, we have committed about 30 per cent of our budget to the health tech industry. We are now looking to increase this further.”

The Authority is looking to harness the success of Israel’s high-tech industry, which accounted for 54 per cent of the country’s exports in 2021.

Rubinstein believes that the high-tech market has established infrastructure that health tech could easily capitalise upon.

“There’s a very successful and evolving medical device industry here alongside digital health sectors. We wanted to harness the knowledge that we have in high-tech and connect it into the biology areas.

“Three years ago, we launched our bioconvergence strategy which looks at the intersection between engineering and biology to develop new health technologies.”

There are around 150 companies already in this ecosystem, Rubinstein says, with growing attention from leading pharmaceutical companies. In May this year, the Authority and its government partners ratified a five-year national bioconvergence programme.

The group will invest around $350 million into the programme with the aim of creating more research centres, startups, accelerators and incubators and boosting international collaboration.

The bioconvergence model has already seen success.

“A year ago, a group of leading pharma companies including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck and Teva and AWS launched Aion Labs with our help and the aim of transforming drug discovery through AI.

“And a few months ago, we established two new incubators in areas of bioconvergence. One of the partnerships also involved BMS and Becton Dickinson. This is just the beginning.”

The Authority started talking about bioconvergence in 2019. And in the proceeding years, this speculative area turned into a global necessity.

Rubinstein sites the rapid vaccination programmes, which could not have happened without convergence.

But she sees the convergent vision having an impact well beyond health tech.

“It will also be very impactful on other critical sectors like energy and agri-food. It’s already happening in Israel.

“The talks are now colliding between health tech and climate. All of these worlds are integrating. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a huge economic potential for the world.

“You cannot work in silos anymore. We see companies like Thermo Fisher and J&J working in silos all the time. They have divisions that are not related specifically: Divisions for health, for advanced materials, for medical devices…

“But they won’t be looking ahead to what’s around the corner. They won’t be prepared for the future.”

Israel Innovation Authority is now working at speed to translate the bioconvergence mission into a working programme.

It has set up a number of consortia to foster collaboration between Israeli academia and industry. The months and years ahead will see more advanced and applied research to drive these forward.

“We will also cater for the human capital in these areas. This is very challenging for bioconvergence companies, because they have to integrate biologists and engineers.

“We’re also looking to do more incubators, hopefully this year. There’s a lot of activity on the table.”

This is an excerpt from our Special Report – Israel: Health Tech Powerhouse

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