Hebrew University eyes foreign markets to help commercialize technologies

Yissum, the tech transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sets up centers in the US, Paraguay and China to ease process of bringing tech to industry

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Students seen during a break at the Rehovot Campus of Hebrew University, on January 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Students seen during a break at the Rehovot Campus of Hebrew University, on January 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Yissum, the Technology Transfer Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said Thursday that it has opened three centers of international cooperation, in Chicago (United States), Asunción (Paraguay) and Shenzhen (China).

The centers, in what appears to be a first initiative of this kind for an Israeli university, aim to help ease and speed up the commercialization of new technologies developed at the Jerusalem university, the academic institution said in a statement.

The new centers will enable the local adaptation of technologies to their respective markets, and generate a variety of collaboration models between Hebrew University researchers and local industries, the statement said.

“With these new international centers of innovation and commercialization, Yissum is taking proactive steps to adapt early stage technologies and companies to local markets abroad,” said Yaron Daniely, CEO and president of Yissum. “Yissum is focused on bringing the best of Hebrew University innovation to the global markets where they are most needed and valued. We are working with local partners and investors to recognize specific regional and national needs, so that we ensure successful commercialization.”

The announcement comes as Israel’s Innovation Authority — in charge of setting out the nation’s policies for its technology ecosystem — is trying to boost the commercialization of Israeli biotechnologies at home.

Yaron Daniely, president and CEO of Yissum, the technology transfer institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Courtesy)

Most drugs discovered in Israel have been developed overseas by foreign companies with the exception of Copaxone, the multiple sclerosis drug developed by Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., the authority said in its latest report.

This has caused the economy to lose “lucrative business and high-quality jobs” over the years, the report said, as most of the nation’s intellectual property gets snapped up and commercialized by foreign firms.  Kite Pharma’s massive exit in 2017, valued at some $12 billion, is a case in point. The US firm’s products are based on scientific developments at the Weizmann Institute, and the company was founded by a former Israeli; however, its operations are located solely in the US.

Israel must identify and remove the obstacles that are impeding the success of its biopharma companies, said Aharon Aharon, the CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority. The authority is looking to set up financial and tax incentives to draw foreign experts and foreign corporations to Israel, to help commercialize local discoveries locally, he said.

Daniely said that the Yissum initiative is in line with Israel’s priorities: “These partnerships are meant to draw engagement and attention of foreign companies into Israeli research centers and universities,” he said in emailed comments to The Times of Israel.

Some of Israel’s “greatest success stories” result from large multinational corporations initially investing in academic research programs or acquiring a university spin-off, and then deciding to leave the R&D center in the country, he said.

“Our goal is to leverage the proximity to these new companies and investors in their own turf to increase the rate of investment and sponsored research within Israel,” he added.

Yaron Daniely, fourth from left, CEO and President of Yissum, the tech transfer arm of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, at the center in China (Courtesy)

In Chicago, Yissum will join the Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) — a joint education, research and innovation institute led by the University of Illinois system and other partners.

Yissum has entered an agreement with DPI by which the two entities will “jointly enhance” applied innovation through academic and industry collaboration, with an initial focus on entrepreneurship, biosciences, computer science including AI, big data and cybersecurity, as well as food and agriculture technologies.

The new centers in Paraguay and China plan to advance technologies from Yissum’s portfolio of research projects and technologies locally.

In Paraguay, Yissum has partnered with HC Innovations to boost innovation and commercialization activities throughout South America. HC Innovations is a new venture within Grupo Cartes, a business conglomerate controlled by Horacio Cartes.

In China, Yissum has partnered with the China Israel Innovation Center LTD., affiliated with Tsinghua University in Shenzhen.

More international centers of cooperation are expected to open in the future, the statement said.

Yissum is the technology transfer company of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Founded in 1964, the company serves as a bridge between academic research and entrepreneurs, investors, and industry.

To date, Yissum has registered over 10,000 patents covering 2,800 inventions; licensed over 900 technologies and has spun out more than 135 companies. Yissum’s business partners include companies such as Boston Scientific, Google, Israel Chemicals,  Intel Corp., Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Microsoft and Novartis.

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