Jerusalem, the Bio-Pharmaceutical Capital of Israel

By Daniel R. Matlis

When I think of Jerusalem, iconic images of religious and historic sites come to mind. Last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Jerusalem. There I met with Chen Levin, Executive Director of BioJerusalem, and learned that Jerusalem is working to become the Bio-Pharmaceutical capital of Israel.

BioJerusalem, an initiative of the Jerusalem Development Authority, was founded in 2006 by Dr. Shirley Kutner to help fuel the economic development of Jerusalem by leveraging the vast Life Sciences resources available in the city. BioJerusalem is committed to growing Jerusalem into a thriving Life Sciences center of sustainable enterprises and solid investments, grounded on cutting edge innovation.

Dr. Kutner is now in the Philadelphia region, where we’ve had the opportunity to collaborate on a number of Life-Science committees and projects. She is currently leading the strategic planning for the creation of the Regional Health Innovation Partnership based on BioJerusalem’s model.

“If you are in the basic sciences and research, the names Hebrew University and Hadassah have a strong meaning for you. Over 50% of clinical research in Israel is performed at Hadassah & Shaare Zedek hospitals and 43% of the biomedical research is performed at the Hebrew University all based in Jerusalem,” commented Chen Levin. “Two blockbuster drugs, Exelon used to treat of Alzheimer’s and Doxil used to treat of cancer, originated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,” she added.

“If you look on the Industry side, over 150 pharmaceutical, biotech and medical device companies are already operating in Jerusalem,” Levin told me.

Teva Pharmaceuticals, which was founded in Jerusalem in 1901, operates 2 large manufacturing facilities in the city. In addition, Omrix Biopharmaceuticals, – which was acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2008 for $438 million, BioLineRx, Medinol and Gamida Cell have operations in Jerusalem. The Life Science sector employs 32,000 people, which represents 12% of the Jerusalem’s workforce.

In 2005, the Israeli government allocated 280 million NIS (~ 93 million USD) to the Jerusalem Economic Development Program to be distributed over seven years, for the economic development of the city. As a result, a number of leading companies have expanded their presence in Jerusalem since 2005. Here are some examples:

  • Teva Pharmaceutical has opened a new plant in Har Hotzvim with an investment of $80 million. Teva operates 2 plants in Jerusalem, which together employ ~1,000 people.
  • Omrix Biopharmaceuticals constructed its main manufacturing site in Jerusalem. The company is building new facilities with an investment of approximately $20 million, which will employ 60 people.
  • Rafa Laboratories has 5% of the Israeli pharmaceutical market, with annual sales of approximately $70 million. The company was founded in Jerusalem in 1937, and is building a new 10,000 square meter plant with an investment of ~ $38 million. The plant is expected to be finished in 2013 and will employ 300 people.
  • Sigma Aldrich – Opened a new plant in Har Hotzvim in 2010, and is now planning another expansion. Sigma has 2 plants in Jerusalem which together employ 100 people.

To continue to support the momentum of the Life Science cluster in Jerusalem, the Israeli Government approved the Marom (Hebrew for uplift) Program in May 2011. The program offers financial incentives including:

  • Grants for Life-Science companies 
  • Creation of subsidizes laboratories facilities for start-up companies
  • Grants for companies that supply R&D services to biotech companies
  • Grants for encouraging doctors in hospitals to perform applied translational research

So why should Life Science companies establish a presence in Jerusalem?

“The main considerations for companies looking to establish a presence is the nature of the collaboration, the quality of the research and development taking place, and we have an edge in all of those areas here in Jerusalem. In addition we offer the most financial incentives in all of Israel. We’d like to see companies establish themselves in Jerusalem and take advantage of our leading edge research and development, whether they are Israeli companies, foreign companies or a collaboration.” said Levin.

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