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How Israel ‘saved’ Italy’s life sciences business

There’s a lot more cooperation going on between Italian and local biotech companies, says a top trade official from Rome

Dr. Marina Scognamiglio (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Marina Scognamiglio (Photo credit: Courtesy)

A slew of delegations from foreign countries were at the BioMed 2013 conference sponsored by Israel Advanced Technology Industries, an organization whose purpose is to enhance Israel’s high-tech and life science industries.

Such delegations usually seek partnerships with Israeli companies to get access to cutting edge technologies. Many also seek to convince start-ups and larger companies to open up sales or R&D facilities in their home countries, even offering financial or other incentives.

But, counter-intuitive as it may sound, companies from Europe are also coming to Israel to seek funding.

Israel has something that Italy, and the rest of the EU, does not have – a tolerance for risk, said Dr. Roberto Mirabella. He is co-founder and CFO of Remembrane, a culture cell company that deals with injury repair, which was part of the Italian delegation to BioMed.

“Italian investors are very averse to risk,” he said at a press conference. “There is money for investment, but those with the funds prefer to invest in more traditional models, with a lower yield, and less risk.

“Israeli investors, on the other hand, are much more willing to take risks on new technologies. We feel we would have a much easier time getting investments here than at home, or even elsewhere in the EU.”

Mirabella isn’t the only member of the Italian delegation who had a specific purpose in mind for this trip. Another member of the delegation, Dr. Marina Scognamiglio of the Italian Trade Commission, a representative of Bracco Imaging — one of the world’s largest imaging technology firms — is in Israel to find start-ups to add to the company’s portfolio. “Other companies in our group want to invest here, and some want to build collaborations,” she said. “In any event, we see Israel as a perfect match for our life sciences industry.”

Italy and Israel have much to offer companies that collaborate, said Scognamiglio. “Last year, the governments of Israel and Italy signed a tech cooperation agreement, with a fund that will go to assisting companies that work together. That agreement is something no other European country has with the Israeli government. And of course Israeli companies that partner with Italian companies have greater access to the EU’s large markets.”

The cooperation between Israel and Italy in the life sciences area really paid off for Italy last year, said Scognamiglio. “Israel was very helpful to Italy during the major earthquake in the north of the country last year,” Scognamiglio said, describing the two devastating earthquakes that struck the Emilia-Romagna region. Over two dozen people were killed in those quakes, and there was widespread damage.

Unfortunately, many of Italy’s life science companies call the region home. “Some of those killed and injured were life science workers, and many of the plants and R&D facilities were badly damaged,” said Scognamiglio. Israeli companies rode in to the rescue, helping to reconstruct the R&D facilities.

It’s a little known story in Israel, but Italians will be forever grateful for the help Israel rendered, Scognamiglio said. “All of our companies are back in production now,” she added. “It shows you the power of cooperation and collaboration.”

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