Tag Archives: Weizmann Institute of Science

Top 10 Israeli medical advances to watch in 2014

ISRAEL21c compiles a list of the 10 most extraordinary medical devices and pharmaceuticals waiting in the wings to revolutionize global healthcare.


Prof. Hossam Haick with the Na-Nose prototype.

Prof. Hossam Haick with the Na-Nose prototype.

In our recent “Top 12 most amazing Israeli medical advances”, we promised a top 10 list of the most exciting Israeli medical-device and pharmaceutical developments just around the corner.

Like the top 12, this list was also very difficult to narrow down, because Israeli breakthroughs in this field are a near-daily occurrence. Our top 10 is just the tip of the iceberg.

Watch for new health stories on ISRAEL21c every week for a broader picture of how Israeli ingenuity is changing the face of healthcare worldwide.

1. Na-Nose can detect lung cancer from exhaled breath and will be commercialized in a joint venture with Boston-based Alpha Szenszor – after a few more years of development and testing by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Invented by Technion Prof. Hossam Haick, Na-Nose (the “na” is for “nanotechnology”) has been proven in numerous international clinical trials to differentiate between different types and classifications of cancer with up to 95 percent accuracy.

2. Hervana non-hormonal, long-acting contraceptive suppository won a $1 million development grant last year from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation is banking on the product’s potential to provide a more accessible, cheaper and socially acceptable family planning option in developing countries, though it would be marketed in the United States and Europe as well.

Hervana founder Rachel Teitelbaum with Bill Gates.

3. Vecoy Nanomedicines nano-scale virus-traps (“vecoys”) capture and destroy viruses before they can infect cells, offering a huge advance over antiviral medications and even vaccines. Through the MassChallenge startup accelerator program last November, Vecoy’s platform was chosen to be tested in zero-gravity conditions on an upcoming NASA space mission.

Treating viruses with vecoys.


4. CartiHeal Agili-C cartilage regeneration solution for knees can regenerate true hyaline cartilage (the most abundant type of cartilage in the human body) after six months, according to clinical results so far. The implant has earned the European Union’s CE Mark of approval. Further clinical studies could lead to FDA approval in the coming years.

5. Oramed Pharmaceuticals seeks to change Type 2 diabetes treatment from a daily injection to a daily pill. Its oral insulin capsule recently received patent approval in the EU, and is in Phase 2 clinical trials under an Investigational New Drug application with the FDA. Jerusalem-based Oramed is also moving forward with clinical trials of a capsule to treat Type 1 diabetes.

Finally, an oral medication for diabetes?

6. Premia Spine developed the TOPS (Total Posterior Solution) System, aiming to revolutionize the spinal implant market with an artificial joint in the same way that total hip and total knee replacement systems made hip and knee fusions a thing of the past. TOPS is available already in Austria, Germany, the UK, Turkey and Israel. An FDA study is now in the follow-up phase.

TOPS is revolutionizing the spinal implant market.

7. Mapi Pharma recently won US patents for two promising slow-release platforms for drugs to treat multiple sclerosis symptoms and pain. “We believe in two to three years they could be in the final stage of development, and about three years to market,” says Mapi Pharma president and CEO Ehud Marom. Another slow-release platform for a schizophrenia drug is next in the pipeline.

8. Discover Medical introduced the SomnuSeal mask for CPAP machines – used widely by sufferers of sleep apnea – in Europe. If sales are successful, the US market will be next. Because SomnuSeal is more comfortable than the current masks used with the machine, compliance could be much greater. Plus, the device does not put strain on the heart as the current mask does.

A more comfortable, safer mask for treating sleep apnea.

9. Real Imaging is in the midst of European clinical trials of RUTH, its radiation-free, contact-free, inexpensive and advanced imaging system for early detection of breast cancer. The system, which has won patent approvals in several countries, analyzes 3D and infra-red signals emitted from cancerous and benign tissue, generating an objective report that needs no interpretation. Founder and CTO Boaz Arnon presented RUTH at the most recent conference of the Radiological Society of North America. Initial release of the product will likely be in Europe sometime in 2015.

RUTH, a hands-off breast cancer detection alternative.

10. NeuroQuest has started clinical testing in the United States, under the auspices of Harvard Clinical Research Institute, for its groundbreaking blood test to detect early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Initial trials in Israel showed NeuroQuest’s test – based on research by Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Weizmann Institute of Science – to be 87 percent accurate with an 85% specificity rate in detecting Alzheimer’s and ALS, two common neurodegenerative diseases.

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Israel Leads in Marijuana Medicinal Research

Even as far back as the 1800s, scientists realized that marijuana had many beneficial effects. Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash90. By Abigail Klein Leichman . ‘Working in a small country certainly has its positive aspects,’ Raphael Mechoulam says. ‘It couldn’t have happened in the United States.’



If some 7,000 Israelis can fill a prescription for marijuana to ease pain and enhance appetite, it’s only because half a century ago, Hebrew University Prof. Raphael Mechoulam isolated and synthesized THC, the main psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant.

Speaking at his office in the Department for Medicinal Chemistry and Natural Products at the Hadassah-Hebrew University medical school, the octogenarian pharmacologist explains that scientists as far back as the 1800s realized the beneficial effects of pot but legal problems stifled serious study.

“The laws in many countries were such that people in academics didn’t want to work in this field,” the grandfather and still-active researcher tells ISRAEL21c. “Chemists couldn’t get cannabis and biologists had nothing to work with.” And funding was non-existent.

Mechoulam recently received a Rothschild Prize for his outstanding research in medical marijuana. Photo by Yoray Liberman

That’s why, 50 years ago, Mechoulam took a rather unconventional path to break the deadlock.

Then a junior faculty member at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, the young researcher did not realize he could approach the Ministry of Health to get samples for research. Instead he connected with the head of the investigative branch of the national police, who was an army buddy of the Weizmann’s administrative director.

The top cop, also unaware of official protocol, provided five kilograms of seized Lebanese hashish to Mechoulam. (Hashish and marijuana both come from cannabis and contain the same 480 components but are processed differently.)

By 1963, Mechoulam and his research partners had revealed the structure of cannabidiol (CBD), a key ingredient in cannabis. By the following year they had isolated THC for the first time, established its structure and synthesized it.

Further years of collaborative research showed that THC is the key ingredient that activates specific receptors in the brain just as similar chemicals in the human body do. These compounds work with the receptors to protect against many symptoms and conditions, including the nausea caused by chemotherapy and the pain from degenerative muscular diseases.

Mechoulam – later a rector at the university – eventually got a gentle scolding for his procurement method, but now his activities are fully aboveboard.

“I have been obtaining hashish from the police for over 40 years, with Ministry of Health-signed documents, without any administrative problems,” he says, adding with a smile that most of the pharmacists at the Health Ministry are his former students.

“Working in a small country certainly has its positive aspects,” Mechoulam says. “It couldn’t have happened in the United States, because the laws were too strict. In Israel there’s a lot of shouting, but in the end you can make it.”

Brain chemistry and personality

Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, Mechoulam is one of the most recent recipients of the Rothschild Prize, a $50,000 award for outstanding researchers.

Prof. Mechoulam in his lab at Hadassah-Hebrew University. Photo by Abigail Klein Leichman

Based on the discoveries he led, the Israel Ministry of Health set up a program to provide approvals for certain patients to have access to medical cannabis

“I give THC to Hadassah free of charge, and a few physicians use it, for example for bone marrow transplant patients,” Mechoulam says.

He’s been at the Hebrew University for 45 years, and though he retired 15 years ago you’d never know it. In fact, a new lab is being constructed for his team.

“They are very generous here,” he explains. “You can stay on if you can get grant money, so I continue working on several topics, mostly in the field of medical agents.”

At 81, he is actively collaborating with scientists and students in Israel, the United States, Europe, Brazil, Japan and New Zealand to examine and synthesize a range of brain chemicals. Companies in Europe and Israel are eager to develop drugs based on this research.

“We have started looking at something nobody has yet really looked at thoroughly: The chemical basis for why eight billion people in the world have different personalities. The same compounds are found in all our brains; however, they all go up and down constantly.”

A treasure trove waiting to be discovered

Mechoulam has been married for 55 years to Dalia, a retired teacher. Their son Roy is a mathematics professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; daughter Hadas is a pediatric ophthalmologist and daughter Dafna is a pediatric neurologist. There are seven grandchildren ranging in age from two to 19.

“All of them live in Jerusalem,” he says. “We are very lucky; every Friday all of them come for dinner.”

Mechoulam is a World War II history buff. “I was a kid then, but it was something we followed day by day despite the fact that Jews were not allowed to have radios.”

His father was head of the Jewish hospital in Sofia and then became a village doctor when the family had to flee the Nazis. After they emigrated to Israel in 1949, Mechoulam had to wait a year to start learning chemistry because the Arab Legion controlled the area where Hebrew University’s labs were located. In the meantime, he researched insecticides as part of his army service.

“I found the independence of research to be an addiction from which I do not want to be cured,” Mechoulam says.

Much work remains to be done before medical marijuana can be available to people of all ages in quantified doses. “We don’t know exact amounts and how to use it, so we cannot give it to everybody,” he says, though further research could solve those mysteries.

“I believe that the cannabinoids represent a medicinal treasure trove which waits to be discovered,” says Mechoulam.


Thanks to Israel 21c.org from Israelseen