Israeli medical pioneer Dr. Miriam Kidron was a welcome presence in Philadelphia last year at the 72nd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association Conference.
She was invited to present her groundbreaking oral insulin medication, which holds the potential to lead to new diabetes-related breakthroughs this year.
Beyond the extraordinary technology she and her team required to make the oral insulin a reality, her discovery was found to slow the progression of diabetes and help control rising costs of treatments worldwide.
A member of the American, European and Israeli Diabetes Associations, Kidron made the breakthrough during her tenure as the chief medical and technology officer and director at Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc., where she has served as its chief scientist since its founding in 2006.
In the 20 years prior, she served as a senior researcher in the Diabetes Unit at Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Jerusalem, earning the coveted Bern Schlanger Award.
Indeed, while Kidron took a long road to get to that conference in Philadelphia, she hopes that her discovery will shorten the path for diabetes patients to a healthier, more active life.
She has high hopes that the medical breakthrough — manifested in the oral insulin medications ORMD-0801 and ORMD-0901 — she introduced to the U.S. medical establishment while in Philadelphia will have a major impact among diabetics in the United States and the world. Now back in Israel, Kidron explains that 30 years of research and trials led to the medication, which was found to improve blood glucose regulation, especially when compared with administering each drug separately.
During the time it took Kidron to piece together a puzzle that has stumped the world’s greatest scientists, she also blazed a trail for other women physicians in Israel.
Kidron came of age in a traditional Orthodox Jewish family of limited financial means, along with a certain cultural mindset about defined gender roles. She did have the good fortune, however, to be in a family whose outlook was progressive and encouraging in her drive to immerse herself in the mysteries of science.
“I had an aunt who also had a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and another who was a microbiologist,” Kidron recalls. “While my father and grandfather were rabbis, they knew of my intentions to pursue a career in science and not literature or other traditionally female college majors.”
She wanted something different. “Though I went through a phase growing up where I read one book per day, I knew that the field I chose was my passion, especially as I saw my aunts’ work in the laboratory” and knew about “another female relative who was a surgeon. Though other women of my generation pursued careers as teachers and secretaries — and there were only two Orthodox Jewish women in my class — it is so gratifying to see how times have changed.”
Kidron points out that in today’s Israel, 70 percent of the students enrolled in medical schools are women, many Orthodox.
In the beginning, she had managed to earn her master’s degree in pharmacology, at Hadassah Medical School, Hebrew University, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Hebrew University — all of it while supporting a growing family on only her small income.
“As a mother of four, with my husband spending two months of every year doing his duty for the Israeli army, and working as a self-employed engineer,” she continues, “life was hard, and I had to struggle between all those things.”
Once established in the world of medical research, Kidron faced challenges tied to industry politics as well as scarcity and demand for materials that would enable her to lay down the groundwork for an effective, accessible oral insulin.
“When I was one of a group of scientists working at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, I realized that one reason why it took 30 years for us to develop a new kind of insulin medication” was that they were required to work on other innovations in medications as well, she recalls.
Kidron explains why something that is seemingly as common sense and easy as an oral insulin eluded so many in the science community. When somebody administers medicine orally instead of through injection, a greater quantity of the medication is required. Early on, one possible solution originated with pig insulin. However, the basic problem (besides the kosher issue) was that experts believed there were not enough pigs in the world to meet the demand for oral insulin.
Kidron and her team eventually started to work with human recombinant insulin, but issues of scarcity and difficulty conducting trials dogged them.
It was that inconvenience that prompted her and her son, Nadav Kidron, to open Oramed.
Every time they administered the test insulin to the dogs in the lab, “we got the same successful result,” she says. Those results and further successful trials was the proof they sought. “I told my son that it was now time to make this breakthrough available to humans,” she says.
“However, we could not do the trials at the hospital because the hospital did not have enough of a budget to conduct such trials. Nadav said he wanted to take it and establish a company to allow us full control of product development.”
Kidron notes that their success so far has resonated among other pharmaceutical companies, who she says approached them to buy insulin through the technology her firm has developed.
Though Israel is a leader in biotech industries and medicine, another thing that makes Oramed’s achievements and Dr. Kidron’s so remarkable is the way Israel’s survival as a country dovetails into that success.
“In Israel, have to use our minds in order to survive, and we have to solve problems by being innovative and creative,” Kidron reflects. Her company, she says, provides “an example of the many innovations coming out of Israel.”