from the May 2014 issue

Computational Biotechnology

Computational biotech, also called bioinformatics, is the specialty of Compugen, a company founded in Tel Aviv in 1993 by three former IDF intelligence officers. Its technologies incorporate methods from mathematics, computer science and physics into biology, organic chemistry and medicine to help scientists gather and process vast amounts of data.

The result is powerful predictive models and discovery engines, which advance understanding of biological phenomena and enable discovery of potential therapeutic products and diagnostic markers. Compugen's customers include the pharmaceutical concerns Eli Lilly, Merck, SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals, Novartis and Millennium Pharmaceuticals.

Genomics uses the RNA system within living cells to control which genes are active and how active they are. Rosetta Genomics, based in Rehovot, is using RNA-based technology to develop a wide range of diagnostic tests for cancers and women's health indications.

Quark Pharmaceuticals has created a fully-integrated drug development platform to deliver RNA molecules to the eye, ear, kidney, lung, spinal cord and bone marrow, where they can block the action of faulty genes.

Diagnostics, particularly monoclonal antibody-based test kits, were among Israel's first commercial biotechnology successes. Aided by Israel's vast clinical medicine resources, new diagnostic tests are brought rapidly from the lab into the hospital ward and to market. Savyon Diagnostics was an earlier entry in this field in 1983, when Ben-Gurion University researchers developed a serological diagnostic kit to test for the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia ('clap').

They formed the company a year later, and brought their test-kit to market in 1989. Savyon has gone on to develop and market tests for urinary tract infections and for HIV.

Orgenics, founded in 1983, produces 22 patented easy-to-use, stand-alone, ELISA-based ImmunoComb kits that test for Chlamydia, hepatitis A and B, cytomegalovirus, toxoplasmosis, rubella, Helicobacter pylori and AIDS, as well as non-wipe strips for measuring blood glucose levels.

Zer Science-Based Industries specializes in diagnostic tests related to fertility. Its Single-Step pregnancy test requires just drops of urine to give an accurate result within five minutes, even before the first missed menstrual period.

Future blockbusters
One example among many is Glassia, the first and only high purity, liquid, ready-to-use 1-proteinase inhibitor for adults with inherited emphysema resulting from 1-antitrypsin deficiency.

Kamada, the 20-year-old biopharmaceutical concern that invented Glassia, entered an exclusive distribution and manufacturing agreement for its production in mid-2010 with the global health-care company Baxter International.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report May 2014

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