Dr. Itai Kela is the Head of the Healthtech Sector in the Israel Innovation Authority. Dr. Kela role is to nurture and develop life science innovation resources, while creating and strengthening the infrastructure and framework needed to support the healthtech industry and its ecosystem and to promote Israel economic growth. Dr. Itai Kela has over 15 years of experience in leading product development programs specializing in drug development and personalized medicine. Read his full bio.

Q&A with Itai Kela of Israel Innovation Authority

Q: Israel is known as a leader in hi-tech innovation. Can you tell us about some of the breakthrough companies in digital health and precision medicine?

A: The Israeli life sciences industry continues to grow and improve its global position. Israeli entrepreneurs’ ability to take advantage of the excellence in academic research, wide government support and innovative ecosystem, contributes to the industry’s success.

There are approximately 1,450 Israeli companies in the life sciences sphere, including more than 200 pharmaceutical companies, nearly 600 medical device companies and 450 digital health companies developing transformative innovations in oncology, neuroscience, immunology, stem cell research, gene therapy, genomic editing, and more. In 2016, life sciences exports from Israel reached $6.9 billion, illustrating the country’s global leadership in the sector. While the share of medical devices sub sector, which is traditionally the largest sub sector in the industry, continues to shrink, while digital health and therapeutics sub sectors continues to grow. 2017 was a record year attracting funding of $1.2 billion, which represents 25% of the total investments in Israeli high-tech (IATI report, 2018). Israeli life sciences companies raised nearly $7 billion on NASDAQ over the past decade. During the past five years alone, there were more than $4 billion worth of acquisitions of Israeli companies in the field.

Israel is in an excellent starting position to become a major player in the field of digital health and precision medicine, for three main reasons:
A) Its uniqueness as the Start-up Nation, characterized by an entrepreneurial environment, high quality human capital and leading academic research.
B) An advanced health system which consistently ranks among the best in the world, and detailed electronic medical records that are available for ninety eight percent of Israel’s population.
C) Renowned worldwide for its technological prowess in fields like IT, communication cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, with more than 25 years of experience in implementing information systems and analysis in its public healthcare system.

Currently, in Israel, there are more than 450 companies in the field of digital health (Health IT, diagnostics and precision medicine), in which more than half of the companies were established in the last six years, with an average of 36 per year. As in the hi-tech sector, many of the companies developed health disruptive innovations, for example, Zebra Medical that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for automated analysis of medical images such as X-ray, CT and MRI;  Taliaz, that employs AI to generate therapy prediction reports, including for ascertaining the efficacy of different antidepressants; Tyto Care that is transforming primary care by offering a mobile system enabling a complete examination of the heart, lungs, skin, throat, and ears, including temperature readings, anywhere and anytime. The system allows for accurate long-distance interaction between doctor and patient and online diagnosis based on real-time tests conducted by a digital stethoscope; EarlySense that develops patient monitoring systems for hospitals and healthcare systems providing continuous patient monitoring for heart rate, respiratory rate, and motion to allow the clinical team to manage early detection of patient deterioration, fall prevention, and pressure ulcers prevention; ContinUse Biometrics that develops remote & non-touch sensing technology to monitor physiological state; Nucleix that develops urine and blood-based non-invasive early detection test for lung cancer based on advanced DNA methylation biomarker analysis; DayTwo that provides personalized nutrition and actionable insights for people to maintain normal blood sugar levels based on their gut microbiome DNA sequences, which is as unique to each individual as their fingerprints.

Q: What government initiatives contribute to the development of digital health industry in Israel?

A: The Israeli government defined the field of precision medicine and digital health as its next economic growth engine. On March 2018, the Israeli government approved a $264 million national digital health program, aimed at building a personalized digital health system in Israel to deliver more personalized and preventive care. The initiative helps position Israel for global leadership in data-driven healthcare– a field that’s forecasted to grow significantly and to be based on artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies that are increasingly deployed in medicine.

The program includes technological development, international cooperation, support academic research, industrial development and regulatory changes to facilitate data research. The program is based on a combination of three main assets: large health record databases, artificial intelligence capabilities and connectivity. Israel’s health system ranks globally as one of the best healthcare systems due to its advanced clinical setting, concentrated and small size infrastructure and well organized and documented medical record system. The fact that twenty five years ago, the healthcare system begun to digitize medical documentation, enables every doctor in Israel today, to view clinical files of over 98% of the population. The national digital health program aims to upgrade the quality of the digital medical record, and to enable better diagnosis and treatment in the future. Medical record documentation is highly significant for researchers, developers and companies looking to develop effective preventive and precision medicine. In addition, the program will allow startups to have access to digitally stored medical data to perform big data research. This is a valuable platform for Israeli digital health companies and a great advantage compares to other companies around the world.

Q: What are the objectives of the Israeli National Genomic-Clinical Initiative? 

A: The Israeli National Genomic-Clinical Initiative, named “Mosaic”, is part of the national digital health program with a budget of $80 Million for 5 years. The “Mosaic” is a national information infrastructure initiative for health researchers in genetics and medical information to develop effective precision medicine treatments. The “Mosaic” consists anonymous Israeli database volunteers and can show long-term disease and illness trends of its citizens for the past 20 years, offering a huge data set for researchers.

Some volunteers will anonymously input personal medical information in order to detect trends and better pinpoint diagnoses. In addition, the Israeli population has unique and large ethnic variation, which enable better targeted and accurate drug development and diagnosis of rare and complex diseases.

Q: It has been reported that General Electric and Roche are considering Israel as a possible location for a joint research operation. What Israel has to offer multinational pharmaceutical and medical device companies?

A: There are over 350 foreign multinationals R&D centers in Israel, however that vast majority of the activity focus on the field of ICT. There is great importance in attracting activity by multinational companies to other technological fields – especially life sciences. The life sciences industry in Israel can greatly benefit from the knowledge, experience and access to markets engendered by multinational corporations. This year, the Israel Innovation Authority launched a new incentive program pilot to encourage the establishment of multinational companies’ R&D centers in the fields of biotechnology and health (Track 35 initiative Recently, three life-science giants — Medtronic, GE Healthcare and Change Healthcare won the first Track 35 tender and will expand their Israeli R&D centers over the next six years with the help of a $33 million grant from the Israel Innovation Authority and the Ministry of Economy and Industry. These three new R&D centers are expected to provide a significant boost to the biomedical field in Israel and will bring unique knowledge and experience to the local workforce.

Beyond that, the next challenge is to recruit major pharma companies to open research and development centers in Israel and to reinvigorate the Israeli drug and diagnosis industry. Most of the international pharma companies that are active in Israel have established branches for selling to the Israeli market, but not development activity like the ones in communications and software or even in medical devices.

Q: Anything else you would like to share with the readers?

A: I added in the first paragraph an overview about the Israeli life sciences industry.

Interview with Ken Bloom of Ambry Genetics

Q: Tell us more about your organization/company. What patient population are you serving and which services are you specializing in?

A: Ambry Genetics is a recognized leader in high quality complex genetic testing. We seek to find the genomic cause or contributors to rare diseases, abnormal phenotypes and hereditary disorders.

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Interview with Lee Pierce of Sirius Computer Solutions

Q: What is the state of big data and analytics in healthcare, and how to best use the reams of data available?

A: More than ever, Healthcare organizations are achieving measurable value through use of their data and analytics assets. There is more raw material available than ever to create value. This raw material is the data flowing from internal systems and applications and also from devices and systems external to healthcare organizations.

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Interview with Anita Nelsen of PAREXEL

Q: There are various new, emerging technologies that bring us closer towards a cure for life-threatening disorders such as cancer, HIV, or Huntington’s disease. Prominent examples include the popular gene editing tool CRISPR or new and improved cell and gene therapies. By when can we expect these new technologies being part of routine clinical care?

A: Today’s emerging technologies are making the promise of individualized treatment a reality.

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Interview with Ilan Kirsch of Adaptive Biotechnologies

Q: The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” What is your first-hand experience the impact that those new drugs had on patients?

A: For decades cancer was viewed as solely a cell-autonomous condition.

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BMS buys Celgene | Lilly buys Loxo Oncology – Does this Signal a Return to Strong Deal-Making Activities in 2019?

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s blockbuster $74B deal to buy Celgene creates an oncology powerhouse amid industrywide excitement about the rapidly evolving science and explosive growth of the sector. The agreement could signal a return to deal-making for the pharmaceutical industry in the $133B global oncology therapeutics market.

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Interview with Gini Deshpande of NuMedii

Q: What need is NuMedii addressing?

A: NuMedii, has been pioneering the use of Big Data, artificial intelligence (AI) and systems biology since 2010 to accelerate the discovery of precision therapies to address high unmet medical needs. Artificial Intelligence approaches are a natural fit to harness Big Data as they provide a framework to ‘train’ computers to recognize patterns and sift through vast amounts of new and existing genomic

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Interview with Minnie Sarwal of UCSF

Q: Genomic medicine is entering more hospitals and bringing with it non-invasive technology that can be used to better target and treat diseases. What are some key milestones that contributed to this trend?

A: Completion of complete sequence data from the human genome project, and the advances in proteomic, microRNA and epigenetic assays added a layer of pathway biology to the understanding of human diseases.

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Interview with Shidong Jia of Predicine

Q: Once sequencing has been validated as a clinical solution via trusted workflows, and coinciding with the technological developments driving costs lower, we can expect accelerated human genome profiling for clinical Dx. How soon, do you think, will we see accelerated growth and what can we expect?

A: We will see accelerated human genome profiling for clinical Dx in 2019 and the coming years as more biomarker-based cancer drugs are gaining approval.

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Interview with Iya Khalil of GNS Healthcare

Q: Artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have sent vast waves across healthcare, even fueling an active discussion of whether AI doctors will eventually replace human physicians in the future. Do you believe that human physicians will be replaced by machines in the foreseeable future? What are your thoughts?

A: I think that there’s a lot of speculation and uncertainty around AI, but I don’t foresee a time when we won’t need physicians.

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Interview with Ilya Michael Rachman of Immix Biopharma Inc.

Q: The Nobel Price in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” Besides CAR T-cell therapy what do you think next generation immunotherapies will look like to successfully combat cancer?

A: The next generation of immunotherapies will build on the insights discovered by immunologists like James Allison and Tasuku Honjo and extend them to modify the body’s response to tumors.

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Join me to Kick off PMWC Silicon Valley in the Santa Clara Convention Center, Focusing on Every Element of Precision Medicine

My team worked in collaboration with Bill Dalton, Kim Blackwell, Atul Butte / India Hook Barnard, Nancy Davidson and Sharon Terry to create a program that touches every component of precision medicine while bringing together all of its key stakeholders. Leading participating institutions including Stanford Health Care, UCSF, Duke Health, Duke University, John Hopkins University, University of Michigan and more will share their learnings and experiences and their successes and challenges, as they make precision medicine the new standard of care for all.

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Interview with Dominic Eisinger of Myriad RBM

Q: The Nobel Price in Medicine was awarded recently to James Allison and Tasuku for their work on unleashing the body’s immune system to attack cancer, a breakthrough that has led to an entirely new class of drugs and brought lasting remissions to many patients who had run out of options. The Nobel committee hailed their accomplishments as establishing “an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.” Besides CAR T-cell therapy what do you think next generation immunotherapies will look like to successfully combat cancer?

A: Next generation immunotherapies include CAR-Ts, TCRs, cancer vaccines, ADCs, bi-specific antibodies, and checkpoint inhibitors.

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2018 Year in Review Milestones: Stakeholder Partnerships Carving Precision Medicine’s Future

2018 has clearly been a year when significant opportunities intersected with strong partnerships to yield advancements. In particular, the clinical advancements that were realized are a testimony to stakeholders working together to deliver on promises affecting major aspects of precision medicine. 2018 has clearly been a year when significant opportunities intersected with strong partnerships to yield advancements.

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Interview with Lisa Alderson of Genome Medical

Q: Tell us a little bit about Genome Medical. What market need is Genome Medical addressing and how?

A: Genome Medical is a telegenomics company that is bridging the gap between available, genetic expertise and the clinical application of genomics.

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Interview with Nasir Bhanpuri of Virta Health

Q: What need is Virta Health addressing?

A: Virta Health delivers an evidence-based treatment to safely and sustainably reverse type 2 diabetes without the use of medications or surgery. In the U.S. alone, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes affects 115 million people, and the economic burden is well-over $300 billion and growing.

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Johns Hopkins
University Of Michigan

The Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC), in its 16th installment, will take place in the Santa Clara Convention Center (Silicon Valley) on January 20-23, 2019. The program will traverse innovative technologies, thriving initiatives, and clinical case studies that enable the translation of precision medicine into direct improvements in health care. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to learn first-hand about the latest developments and advancements in precision medicine and cutting-edge new strategies and solutions that are changing how patients are treated.

Agenda highlights:

  • Five tracks will showcase sessions on the latest advancements in precision medicine which include, but are not limited to:
    • AI & Data Science Showcase
    • Clinical & Research Tools Showcase
    • Clinical Dx Showcase
    • Creating Clinical Value with Liquid Biopsy ctDNA, etc.
    • Digital Health/Health and Wellness
    • Digital Phenotyping
    • Diversity in Precision Medicine
    • Drug Development (PPPs)
    • Early Days of Life Sequencing
    • Emerging Technologies in PM
    • Emerging Therapeutic Showcase
    • FDA Efforts to Accelerate PM
    • Gene Editing
    • Genomic Profiling Showcase
    • Immunotherapy Sessions & Showcase
    • Implementation into Health Care Delivery
    • Large Scale Bio-data Resources to Support Drug Development (PPPs)
    • Microbial Profiling Showcase
    • Microbiome
    • Neoantigens
    • Next-Gen. Workforce of PM
    • Non-Clinical Services Showcase
    • Pharmacogenomics
    • Point-of Care Dx Platform
    • Precision Public Health
    • Rare Disease Diagnosis
    • Resilience
    • Robust Clinical Decision Support Tools
    • Wellness and Aging Showcase

Agenda highlights:

    • Five tracks will showcase sessions on the latest advancements in precision medicine which include, but are not limited to:
      • AI & Data Science Showcase
      • Clinical & Research Tools Showcase
      • Clinical Dx Showcase
      • Creating Clinical Value with Liquid Biopsy ctDNA, etc.
      • Digital Health/Health and Wellness
      • Digital Phenotyping
      • Diversity in Precision Medicine
      • Drug Development (PPPs)
      • Early Days of Life Sequencing
      • Emerging Technologies in PM
      • Emerging Therapeutic Showcase
      • FDA Efforts to Accelerate PM
      • Gene Editing / CRISPR
      • Genomic Profiling Showcase
      • Immunotherapy Sessions & Showcase
      • Implementation into Health Care Delivery
      • Large Scale Bio-data Resources to Support Drug Development (PPPs)
      • Microbial Profiling Showcase
      • Microbiome
      • Neoantigens
      • Next-Gen. Workforce of PM
      • Non-Clinical Services Showcase
      • Pharmacogenomics
      • Point-of Care Dx Platform
      • Precision Public Health
      • Rare Disease Diagnosis
      • Resilience
      • Robust Clinical Decision Support Tools
      • Wellness and Aging Showcase
  • Luminary and Pioneer Awards, honoring individuals who contributed, and continue to contribute, to the field of Precision Medicine
  • 2000+ multidisciplinary attendees, from across the entire spectrum of healthcare, representing different types of companies, technologies, and medical centers with leadership roles in precision medicine
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