How tech gets from the lab to the marketplace
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How tech gets from the lab to the marketplace

Yissum, the technology transfer company of Hebrew U with hundreds of successes under its belt, is now working on purifying water

An aquarium outfitted with a Hebrew University-developed  bio-filter to reduce nitrate levels (Photo credit: Courtesy)
An aquarium outfitted with a Hebrew University-developed bio-filter to reduce nitrate levels (Photo credit: Courtesy)

If the phrase “A better life through science” hasn’t yet been copyrighted, Yissum, the technology transfer company of Hebrew University, may want to grab it. From medicine to environmental technology to information systems, Hebrew U scientists have developed a wide range of important technologies, and thanks to Yissum, those technologies are now available to help people around the world.

A good example is Exelon, a cholinesterase inhibitor developed by Prof. Marta Weinstock-Rosin of the Hebrew University’s Department of Pharmacology, which treats the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Used by patients once a day in patch form, Exelon (generic name Rivastigmine) is marketed by pharma giant Novartis, whose global sales were over $1 billion in 2012.

The list of Hebrew U successes that Yissum has brought to market includes cherry tomatoes (a popular version of cherry tomatoes was invented at Hebrew University, with the rights eventually acquired by agritech multinationals Vilmorin and Syngenta), Doxil, which provides relief to many ovarian and breast cancer patients around the world, and hybrid peppers that can grow even in very cool and hot temperatures (50°-95° Fahrenheit).

Since it was formed in 1964, Yissum has established companies based on research done by Hebrew U scientists, including road safety innovator Mobileye, which recently raised $400 million for its collision protection technology that alerts drivers when they are getting too close to the car in front of them. Altogether, products based on Hebrew University technologies that have been commercialized by Yissum generate $2 billion in annual sales. Yissum has registered over 8,100 patents covering 2,300 inventions, and has licensed out 700 technologies. Yissum-sourced start-ups have partnered with or been acquired by such companies as Syngenta, Monsanto, Roche, Novartis, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Intel and Teva.

Among the latest innovations Hebrew U scientists are offering the world via Yissum are several water treatment technologies. Israel is a world leader in water tech, and Hebrew U scientists in a number of departments have been developing better ways to filter water and remove pollutants from water, said Michal Levy, Yissum’s director of Business Development for Agriculture and Environment.

Dr. Michal Levy (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Michal Levy (Photo credit: Courtesy)

“Yissum’s challenge in this space is to harness the technologies of seed stage companies — which are what you would expect to find at a university — and to prepare them for market. Finding partners for these companies is essential, because they need cash to continue their development work. Without that assistance, some very promising technologies end up dying, which denies the world what could be a major breakthrough,” Levy said.

At the recent WaTec 2013 water technology show in Tel Aviv in October, Yissum introduced several new technologies. One of them uses bacteria as a bio-filter to reduce nitrate levels in both fresh-water and sea-water aquariums, improving water quality for a wide range of aquarium fish, thereby extending their life expectancy. The technology was developed by Professor Amos Nussinovitch from the Department of Biochemistry, Food Science, and Nutrition, Professor Jaap van Rijn from the Department of Animal Science, both from the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, at the Hebrew University and Dr. Yosef Tal, who was part of the original research team.

The bacteria are loaded onto polymer carrier beads to create bio-filters for the removal of nitrates from aquarium water. As the nitrites pass through the permeable polymer beads, nitrogen gas, which evaporates into the atmosphere, is produced. The nitrate removal continues for at least several months. In addition, the bacteria are not harmful to fish and the dry bio-filters can be stored in a stable state for years.

A second innovation displayed at the event provides a biological solution for purifying water in aquariums based on the production of clay-based polymers that are better at absorbing pollutants, enhancing the clay’s natural ability to absorb specific pollutants, with each polymer targeting a pollutant. The system, which neutralizes components in water that interfere with clay’s absorption abilities. will be useful in cleaning up pollutants in a number of industries, including food production, agriculture, coal, tar, plastics, leather, paint, pharmaceutical and steel production. The polymers were developed by a team headed Dr. Yael Mishael from The Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University, as part of research funded by the Kamin program of the Office of the Chief Scientist.

“Water pollution by organic contaminants is a global concern. In developing countries, 70% of the industrial waste is dumped untreated into waters where they pollute the usable water supply. Even in high income countries, organic contamination is expected to increase due to the projected rise in fertilizer use for food production and in wastewater effluents,” said Yaacov Michlin, CEO of Yissum. The inventions displayed at WaTec, said Michlin, will help develop “cheap, efficient and safe methods for water treatment that will ensure a clean water supply to the world at large.”

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