IIA, Jefferson Team Up for Biotech Contest

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From left: Mark Tykocinski; Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the board of the Israel Innovation Authority; and Zvi Grunwald, executive director of the Jefferson Israel Center (Photo provided)

Thomas Jefferson University is partnering with the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) on a competition for Israeli biotech and life science companies that will provide $1 million in total prizes to be devoted toward research and development for four winning applicants, according to a joint announcement on Feb. 12.

The competition will seek out Israeli companies focused on new, innovative technologies in areas like virtual reality, artificial intelligence, wearable tech and more.

“This is something that we’ve been bringing together for six, eight years,” Zvi Grunwald said.

Grunwald, an Israeli citizen born to Holocaust survivors, has been at Jefferson for more than 20 years, serving as a professor of anesthesiology and as chair of that department within the Sidney Kimmel Medical College; as of last July, he is now the James D. Wentzler professor and emeritus chair, along with his post as the executive director of the Jefferson Israel Center.

This new project, he said, is not only emblematic of the relationship that Jefferson continues to foster with medical students and professionals in Israel, but “is itself part of a much larger vision of the global Jefferson that we are creating now.”

The Jefferson Israel Center was launched in June, the third such international center founded by the Philadelphia medical center. According to a press release then, the goal was to “expand collaborative research ties with more Israeli academic centers, encompassing all of its medical schools, as well as the forefront Israeli biomedical innovation incubators.”

At the time, the announcement also pledged to “scale-up joint ventures with Israeli companies, by leveraging Jefferson’s unique co-development business model and the substantial scale of its rapidly growing clinical care footprint and clinical trials consortium.”

Besides the general desire for greater global reach and collaboration, Grunwald said, it is Israel in particular that provides enticing opportunities to Jefferson.

“Israel today is what Silicon Valley was in the late 1990s. It’s an ecosystem of innovation that has more technology startups per capita than anywhere in the world right now,” said Mark L. Tykocinski, provost and executive vice president at Jefferson and the Anthony F. and Gertrude M. DePalma Dean of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College, at the announcement of the Jefferson Israel Center last June. “In an increasingly global academic ecosystem, the opportunities are unbounded for leveraging international institutional partnerships to innovate science and professional training, and in so doing, to give life to our vision for ‘redefining humanly possible.’”

This partnership between Jefferson and Israeli medical professionals has been building for some time, according to Grunwald.

In the past, he said, “this relationship materialized in many areas — computational biology, cancer research and other areas. Jefferson scientists worked together with Israelis in order to develop new areas of research, apply for grants, receive their grants in dollars, and eventually ended up publishing the fruits of the combined research in elite journals in the life sciences area.”

He stressed that he sees this work as real-life practice of the ideas discussed in books like the famous Start-Up Nation.

The IIA, under the purview of the Ministry of Economy, is tasked with fostering scientific research and development in Israel.

“We are delighted to collaborate with a leading academic and medical center such as Jefferson,” said Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the IIA. “The combination of Israeli innovation and Jefferson’s clinical experience, expertise and facilities will enable the creation of cutting-edge solutions that will prove instrumental in laying the groundwork for the future of health care and providing superior personalized medical care.”

Applicants have until March 28 to submit their expression of interest. Winners will be announced in December.

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