Healthcare Innovation

Leading edge endeavors and the proliferation of start-ups involved in medical electronics and biotechnology will ensure the ongoing growth in sales of Israeli healthcare products.

Israel's healthcare exports reached a record high of nearly $750 million in 1996, climbing 20% from 1995. This figure includes medical electronics, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals and is one of Israel's fastest growing sectors. Of 257 start-ups that requested assistance from the Office of the Chief Scientist in 1996, 35% were companies based on medical electronics technology.

Israel's electronics expertise combined with a strong tradition of medical practice (Israel has the highest number of physicians per capita in the world) and innovative R&D have enabled this sector to grow rapidly. In particular, Israel's healthcare manufacturers offer "cost effective" products. Medical electronics equipment made in Israel often costs a fraction of comparable equipment manufactured in Western Europe or North America, but is just as effective and innovative. Israeli producers also develop new generations of appliances quickly and have a short time to market.

Flagship of the sector is Elbit's Healthcare Division. Elbit is among the world's leading companies in diagnostic imaging technologies, and through its subsidiary Elscint Ltd. excels in nuclear medical imaging, computerized tomography, and magnetic resonance. Another subsidiary, Elbit Ultrasound Ltd., produces ultrasound products. R&D at Elscint focuses on such fields as F-18 FDG imaging in nuclear medicine, spiral angiography, imaging in computer tomography and digital stereotactic imaging in mammography.

Recent achievements include the development of a unique multi-slice tomography scanner, and a mobile hospital and medical service center installed in a compact vehicle.

In the field of treatment technology, Laser Industries Ltd. has become one of the world's leading manufacturers of surgical lasers. Marketed under the trade name Sharplan, the company's products are designed for the fields of aesthetic surgery, plastic surgery and dermatology, gynecology, urology, neurosurgery and gastroenterology.

New developments at the company include lasers for the treatment of snoring, facial skin wrinkles and hair transplants. The company also produces an ultrasonic aspirator for neurosurgery, computerized endoscopic video cameras and intraoperative laparascopic ultrasound systems. ESC Energy Systems has developed a device to treat benign vascular lesions.

Mennen Ltd. designs, manufactures and markets technological patient monitoring, cardiac catheterization laboratories and information systems for use in managing critically ill patients. These innovative products allow hospitals to improve their cost effectiveness in critical care departments by reducing staff in intensive care units, operating theaters, neonatal nurseries and catheterization laboratories. Using state-of-the-art technology, Mennen's products provide accurate detection of alarm situations based on the most recent proven medical algorithms.

Other companies such as CMT have applied electronics to the fields of patient monitoring, image-enhancement and tele-medicine. CMT specializes in digital imaging for cardiologists and interventional radiologists which integrates tailor-made products with various X-ray systems. Spegas Industries produces advanced capnographic (breath) monitors.

Opgal Optronic Industries manufactures innovative thermal imaging systems for intra-operative vascular angiography in the cardiac operating room. The systems create the thermal image of the heart's blood vessels for the presentation of blood flow in the re-opened coronary arteries. Transcan has also developed innovative imaging systems for the early detection of breast cancer through measuring bioelectric currents to produce real-time images of the electrical impedance properties of the breast.

Card-Guard Ltd. took an existing device, the Holter monitor, which uses microelectronics to record patients' ECG signals, adapted it and introduced a new, more powerful range of monitors and, more importantly, automated the analysis process by enabling data to be transferred via a telephone line to a central computer supplying instant diagnosis. Some of the smaller companies among Israel's 235 healthcare product exporters include Tuttnauer which makes steam and gas sterilizers for hospitals, and Orgenics, that has developed in-vitro diagnostic kits.

Other start-ups now flourishing include Biometrix which produces disposable, sterile medical devices for operating rooms and intensive care units, including chest and closed wound drainage systems.

Much of the technology in electronics originated in R&D carried out for the defense industry. Israeli start-ups have been able to benefit from strong cooperation between university researchers, hospitals and industry, which focuses on problem solving and optimal use of resources. This cooperation greatly benefits the biotechnology sector which has been growing annually at a rate of 10% in recent years.

With annual exports approaching $200 million, Israel claims two percent of world biotechnology sales. In subjects like hybrid seed development, peptide technology, and biopesticides, Israel is a world leader in innovation and research.

Israeli companies like Biotechnology General have also enjoyed breakthroughs in biomedical fields utilizing technologies like genetic engineering, peptides and drug delivery systems. Israeli biotechnology enterprises have proven experience in handling the lengthy and rigorous trials required by the American Federal Drug Authority.

In diagnostics, Israeli biotechnology start-ups have developed advanced techniques for diagnosing infectious and other diseases at the molecular level.

For example Combact Diagnostic's BACTIS, undergoing clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic in the US, is a rapid bacterial detection and susceptibility determination system designed to measure bacteria in urine within minutes, and determine antibiotic susceptibility within two hours. Models for checking blood, CSF, and sputum are also being developed.

Biosensors, or the use of electrical signals to measure molecules, is yet another novel technique under study.

In pharmaceuticals, Teva Pharmaceuticals with annual sales of over $700 million worldwide mainly in generic drugs has also developed its own innovative medications including Copaxone for multiple sclerosis, which has FDA approval, and TVP-1012 for Parkinson's disease and AF-102B for Alzheimer's disease which are undergoing clinical studies. Chemagis, another major player in the production of medications, manufactures bulk pharmaceutical substances.

These leading edge endeavors and the proliferation of start-ups involved medical electronics and biotechnology, will ensure the ongoing growth in sales for Israeli healthcare products in the coming years.