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Israel: The Start-up Nation for Medical Innovation

By Dr. Rob Norman

How is it that Israel, with just 8.5 million people, only 69 years old, with few natural resources and minimal infrastructure, is a world leader in producing medical and biotechnology start-ups and companies and is first in the world for medical device patents per capita? Israel is surrounded by enemies trying to wipe it out. The country has been in constant war and turmoil since its founding in 1948, yet thrives in adversity. Economies as diverse as Dubai, India, Ireland, and Singapore have tried to mimic the "Israel effect." On my many trips to Israel as the national chairman of the Jewish National Fund’s Doctors for Israel, I have observed the amazing life-saving and life-enhancing advances of Israeli medicine and discussed the future of medicine and science with many leading scientists. I visited the makers of ReWalk robotic exoskeleton (featured on the hit TV show “Glee”) that enables paraplegic runners in London and Tel Aviv to complete marathons and spent time at Given Imaging’s PillCam capsule endoscopy company. The list of amazing technologies provided by Israel keeps growing. Among the numerous people on the cutting edge of Israeli medicine and science is Eran Perry, managing director at Israel Health Care Ventures (IHCV), one of the largest venture capital funds in the country. “It’s almost a cliché to say Israel is an excellent place for medical innovation,” Perry said in an interview. “But if you look at global statistics, it’s evident — from the total expenditure on civilian R&D, where we are ranked first; to human infrastructure and entrepreneurship, where we rank in the top five. You can see the results in patents. We are first in the world for medical device patents per capita, and second in Europe for bio-pharma.” I believe this is one of the most important times in the history of medicine and science and that Israel plays a key role. According to the newest data, more than 1,000 Israeli companies are in healthcare or life-science products, including 700 in medical devices, and approximately half are already generating revenue. I will highlight numerous accomplishments by Israeli medicine and science companies and provide compelling reasons why Israel is a world center in innovation.