Evogene and Compugen Break News

Evogene and Compugen have both made headlines today. The two companies are related – Evogen was spun off of Compugen six years ago as an independent startup. Evogen will receive NIS 7.2 million from venture capital fund AquAgro. The ag-biotech startup develops improved plants for the agricultural and biofuel industries through plant genomics. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Evogene partnership with Rehovot-based CBD Technologies to collaborate on the improvement of cotton fiber properties.

Compugen announced yesterday its discovery of a blood-based biomarker for the diagnosis of lung cancer. The dual-listed firm (Nasdaq:CGEN) is involved in the identification and licensing of molecular level biomarkers and processes using computational biology tools. The discoveries are used in therapeutic and diagnostic products, for which it receives royalties.

In the News: Fixya, Intercure, Mazor, Perytons

According to webware, tech-support startup Fixya will announce a partnership with Best Buy whereby “customers wanting to perform their own fixes (or trying to dig others out of trouble) can go to the Best Buy Web site and access http://geeksquad.fixya.com from the “Customer Service” tab. They can search by product, SKU, manufacturer, or product category, or post a new query and receive community troubleshooting” for free. This is sure to boost traffic on Fixya’s site, which already claims over 6 million views per month. The site also boasts more than 30,000 “geek” contributors.

InterCure Ltd., a medical device company (TASE: INCR), announced yesterday that its RESPeRATE hypertension treatment device, clinically-proven to significantly lower blood pressure, will launch into full-scale retail distribution in the UK this May through leading pharmacy chain Lloyds.

“The full-chain launch of RESPeRATE at Lloyds Pharmacy clearly demonstrates the broad appeal of our effective and truly natural device-guided breathing therapy for hypertension,” said Erez Gavish, president and CEO of InterCure. Sixteen million adults in the UK suffer from high blood pressure. Left untreated, it may lead to heart attack, stroke and kidney or heart failure.

Founded in 2005 and based in Ness Ziona, Perytons provides developers, implementers and field engineers with analyzers for standard and proprietary wireless communication protocols. The startup announced today an enhanced version of it’s multi-antenna multi-channel 802.15.4/ZigBee analyzer based on Integration Associates EZLink 802.15.4 USB dongles. The tool provides the capability to analyze and track multiple network sessions that coincide in time in a user friendly manner. “We are excited to provide our customers a feature rich, user friendly analysis tool with very high reliability needed for analyzing sophisticated wireless networks.” – Yaron Soffer, Perytons Founder and CEO.

Mazor Surgical Technologies, a 2001-founded provider of the SpineAssist, a miniature surgical assistance system for a wide range of spine procedures, has signed a strategic cooperation agreement with the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Mazor has received exclusive, worldwide licenses to two patents for the development of permanent implants for the spine.

CEO Ori Hadomi predicts that the product, which has already undergone a feasibility study, can reach market within a year. He adds that the product will open a new market to the company – orthopedic implants – and that it can also boost sales of Mazor’s own SpineAssist product line.

Finally, check out this Globes article about a Israel Venture Capital Research Center survey that shows that high tech start-ups in Israel have not been affected so far by a possible global slowdown, and that in fact venture capital funding is at a seven-year high.

Epix Achieves Positive Results for Vasovist

Epix Pharmaceuticals is an Israeli biopharmaceutical established in 2000 that discovers and develops novel therapeutics using its proprietary in silico drug delivery platform. According to a press release, the company has “achieved positive results from the blinded, independent re-read of images of its novel blood pool MRA agent, Vasovist.” Previous re-read of images from phase III trials met FDA specifications and the company now plans to resubmit a new application (NDA) to the FDA in mid-2008. Vasovist is approved for marketing in 33 countries.

“There are currently no contrast agents approved in the United States for use with MRA, a non-invasive modality for imaging blood vessels. However, it is estimated that approximately 1.5 million MRAs will be conducted in the United States during 2008 using gadolinium-based products.

Andrew Uprichard, M.D., president and head of R&D at EPIX said the “positive results confirm the efficacy upon which the NDA was based and allow us to move forward with our strategy of achieving U.S. regulatory approval,” and eventually bring Vasovist to the U.S. market.

Michael G. Kauffman, M.D., Ph.D., CEO of EPIX added that the company remains “focused on monetizing our Vasovist asset in the near- to mid-term and these positive results are a significant milestone towards achieving this goal.” “We believe these positive results position us well for FDA approval and that our product, if approved, will serve a large and unmet need in the U.S.”

Check out the details on Vasovist here.

Protalix Gets $4M from Chief Scientist

Protalix BioTherapeutics announced yesterday that it received $4 million from Israel’s Office of the Chief Scientist to help it advance its clinical and pre-clinical drug development programs. The government grant program was setup to aid tech companies that have trouble seeking R&D financing from private investors.

Protalix, which was founded in 1994, intends to use most of the money to complete development of prGCD, an “enzyme naturally found in human cells that is mutated or deficient in patients with Gaucher disease.” PrGCD is currently in Phase III clinical trials in which “it is being tested as an enzyme replacement therapy for Gaucher disease.” The remainder of the grant will be used to fund some of Protalix’ other pre-clinical development goals including a biodefense program and a therapeutic enzyme for the treatment of Fabry disease.

Dr. David Aviezer, President and CEO of Protalix said the grant is “an important, non-dilutive cash resource for Protalix” and that his company is “pleased to have the support of the Chief Scientist as our enrollment of Gaucher patients in the phase III clinical trial of prGCD progresses.

The website has more details.

XTL Licenses Hepatitis C Program to Presidio

xtlbio.jpgXTL Biopharmaceuticals Ltd. is an Israeli company founded in 1993 that specializes in the acquisition, development and commercialization of therapeutics for the treatment of neuropathic pain and hepatitis C. It has just licensed its pre-clinical Hepatitis C program to San-Francisco based Presidio Pharmaceuticals Inc. which will now assume responsibility for all further R&D and commercialization costs.

XTL will receive an upfront payment of $4 million and up to an additional $104 million upon reaching certain development and commercialization milestones. In addition, XTL will receive a royalty on direct product sales by Presidio, and a percentage of Presidio’s income if the Program is sublicensed by Presidio to a third party.

Ron Bentsur, XTL’s CEO: “We are excited about this licensing transaction with a motivated and capable partner such as Presidio. This transaction allows us to solidify our financial position by bringing in $4 million dollars in cash and eliminating the ongoing development expense of the Program, while preserving a significant share in the Program’s future success.”

Ram Waisbourd, VP of Business Development of XTL: “We have great confidence in Presidio’s ability to move the Program forward rapidly. We believe that Presidio has a dynamic and experienced management team, and a solid scientific team.”

XTL previously developed the Trimera technology which is a breakthrough in the creation of in vivo systems featuring functional human tissue.

For more info check out the press release.

Diabetes: Insulin Pills May Replace Shots

oramed.gifOramed Pharmaceuticals has successfully completed Phase 1B clinical trials of its oral insulin capsule. The Jerusalem-based company used healthy volunteers to find the optimal dosage and is now planning to commence Phase 2A trials in Israel to test safety and efficacy in Type II diabetes patients.

If approved, Oramed’s oral insulin capsule is sure to be a money-making hit. According to the jazzy Oramed website, there are over 200 million diabetics worldwide, most of whom would probably rather pop a pill then go through daily time-consuming injections. Moreover, the estimated total costs (direct and indirect) of diabetes in the U.S. in 2002 was $132 billion.

Aside from the fact that a pill is generally better than a needle, there are other reasons why diabetics might benefit from the oral insulin pill. According to Prof. Hanoch Bar-On of the team, “the route of the insulin from the swallowed capsule imitates nature in that it passes to the liver and then to the bloodstream. Injected insulin goes straight to the bloodstream.” Furthermore, the pill “will better control diabetes by ingesting the capsule at an earlier stage of one’s treatment”.

If it’s so important, why has it taken so long to develop a pill? Oramed explains: “Up until now, the idea of insulin pills or capsules was inconceivable due to the fact that insulin, which is a protein, breaks down in the digestive system. However, Oramed’s patented technology overcame the problem of digestion as well as permeability to the intestine. This has been a major hurdle that has inhibited the development of an orally ingestible insulin for decades.”

For more on this great invention check out the press release.