It may not have been predictable that MIXiii Health-Tech.IL, the life sciences conference organized by IATI (Israel Advanced Technology Industries), which took place last week in Jerusalem, would open with a political discussion. But at least two of the conference plenary speakers do not view politics as separate from the life science and healthcare industries.
Dr. Jeremy Levin, former CEO of Teva and now chairman and CEO of pharmaceutical company Ovid Therapeutics, focused his remarks on the argument that political polarization is leading to the destruction of the healthcare system in the US, and in Israel as well. Levin told the conference plenum: “You need to understand the context in which biotechnology lives. You won’t understand some of it, but I’ll try. I want to ‘recruit’ you to understanding the idea,” he said (emphasizing the military connotation of the word in Hebrew).
“The US today is a divided country, and this affects biotechnology more than one might think,” Levin said. “In 1949, Republicans and Democrats would sometimes vote together, and they voted together on things that were good for the country as a whole. That’s how it was until 2011, and then it stopped completely. Voting on any law is tribal, almost entirely.
“Today, companies may give up investing in certain types of drugs for political reasons, or because of laws passed for political reasons. And if you think, okay, that’s the US, then no – it’s happening here too.”
Regarding the life sciences industry specifically, Levin said, “We are entering a period of significant instability in our industry, of decreased trust, and increased economic inequalities. An increase in health care costs is something economies cannot bear. The question of health financing will be critical for democracies. Societies that do not have good medical care are almost always undemocratic.
“During the coronavirus period, politics led to a million deaths in the US, most due to denying the pandemic or denying the vaccine. For a moment, our industry was trusted and then, suddenly, the wheel turned, and now they hate us. And that is where the politicians stepped in and it led to regulation of our industry like never before. Politicians just want to be elected.”
Levin called on the life sciences industry to adopt the way of thinking expressed, for example, in Johnson & Johnson’s code of ethics: to transcend politics and capitalism as well, and put patients first and shareholders second – a way of thinking that ultimately also benefits shareholders. “And once there was a company in Israel that thought this way, too, but they forgot,” he said, referring, of course, to Teva.
Levin added that he was a man of faith with close ties to religious people, but that, “Religion harms science. It’s not about religiosity, it’s about religion. We have to have science,” he said.
The two-state solution is US Ambassador’s next-to-top priority
US Ambassador to Israel, Thomas R. Nides said he had three goal he wished to achieve while posted in Israel. The first goal: that the unbreakable bond between the US and Israel will not be severed, regardless of who leads the two countries. The second goal, “That we keep the idea of two states alive. This is important for Israel’s security, and it is important that we have a vision.” The third goal is the economy. “Security can only exist when the economy is strong, and Israel is the startup nation,” he said.
“Why does the White House care about the Israeli life sciences industry?” asked Nides, and answered: “Because the US believes in Israel’s technology, and the life sciences industry is at the center of Israel’s technological capabilities. We want to cooperate in the development of life sciences technologies. We will do everything we can to ensure that innovation in Israel thrives, because that is what makes Israel a stronger democratic – and Jewish – state.”
Balicer: “We can predict diseases and save money”
Prof. Ran Balicer, Chief Innovation Officer and Founding Director of the Clalit Research Institute at Clalit Health Services, said, “The crisis for health systems in Israel and around the world will worsen, due to aging and an increase in chronic morbidity, as well as a decline in available healthcare workers. People are completely worn out, and we have no manpower at all, certainly not proportionate to the rise in need. Covid-19 accelerated these developments.
“Healthcare systems that do not adjust quickly will collapse. Healthcare systems change and will continue to change in order to survive. Four major changes are required.”
The necessary changes, according to Balicer: proactive and preventive medicine to reduce the burden of chronic illness; jettisoning unnecessary medical activities that do not contribute to health – Balicer says there are many of those. The third change is to reinforce family medicine, and the fourth is a shift to home healthcare, self-care, and self-monitoring, using, among other things, digital tools.
“Israel is a model country for innovation in healthcare systems,” says Balicer. “We are taking groundbreaking measures that the world is examining and learning from.” For example, in predictive medicine: “We’ve built a system that, with the help of artificial intelligence, identifies future health problems before they happen, indicates the most beneficial interventions, and makes sure that each patient receives the best treatment.
“In a study of over 1,000 patients, we demonstrated that treatment with this approach – targeted at chronic patients with maximum risk of deterioration – improves medical results, prevents 43% of hospitalization days, and is ultimately cost-effective for the healthcare system.”
“We are just a small island”
IATI CEO and President Karin Mayer Rubinstein said, “We believe in mixes, in combining industry entities, in public-private partnerships. Companies shouldn’t lose heart during this difficult period. They should focus resources on their main assets, refine business models, improve operations, and as Winston Churchill said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’”
IATI co-chair and CEO of BioLight Life Sciences Yaacov Michlin said, “If you compare us with other life sciences centers in the world, we are just a small island. In Boston alone there are more than 1,000 companies, compared with our 1,800 companies. But when we cooperate, we see that we can extend and improve people’s lives. High-tech alone won’t do it.”
Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority, said: “We at the Innovation Authority are also working constantly on building our business model. Four years ago, we tried to understand what Israeli technology’s growth engine would be, and identified the interface between biology and high-tech: bioconvergence. We launched a $570 million plan for the next five years to support this area, and the first step, at a cost of $145 million, has already been taken. In the first phase, we are building the infrastructure for multidisciplinary applied research.”
Published by Globes, Israel business news – en.globes.co.il – on November 14, 2022.
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