Israel, UK in huge new scientific cooperation agreement

A multi-year agreement will further cement the countries’ close research relations

Dr. Ruth Arnon (L) and Dr. Paul Nurse sign the agreement (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Ruth Arnon (L) and Dr. Paul Nurse sign the agreement (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel and the UK have entered into yet another joint scientific research agreement. The agreement, between the British Royal Society, the world’s oldest and most prestigious scientific fellowship, and the Israel Academy of Science and Humanities will fund research in a number of scientific areas, as well as provide funding for 12-15 post-doctorate exchange fellows to study in each country.

The agreement was signed over the weekend by Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, and Professor Ruth Arnon, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Helping to fund the fellowship program will be the Sir Ralph Kohn Foundation.

It was just the latest of a long line of scientific and research agreements between Israel and the UK, two countries that have hundreds, if not thousands, of science and medicine research projects going on at one time, according to UK Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport.

“There are so many examples of cooperation between researchers in our two countries,” Walport told The Times of Israel on a recent visit here. “We have a great deal in common – world-class universities, stop researchers, and common values. We have given each other a great deal, and there is so much more we can, and will, do together.”

Israel and the UK have worked closely on medical research, technology, business, and many other areas for years. Earlier this year, for example, BIRAX – the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange – provided £10 million for advanced medical research projects in 11 leading universities in Britain and Israel. Among the projects: regenerating the liver using a patient’s own stem cells (University of Edinburgh/Hebrew University); using a breath test for diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease (University of Cambridge/Technion); regenerating immune cells to treat diabetes (Cardiff University/MIGAL); and using heart cells to restore damaged heart muscle (University of Oxford/Weizmann Institute); and many others.

Those scientific projects come in addition to the extensive technology cooperation between the two countries. Among other projects, for example, the UK-sponsored TexChange program brings Israeli entrepreneurs to London (and other UK locations) to meet with entrepreneurs, investors, and potential customers. The program is targeted at start-ups and entrepreneurs working in the hottest technologies, such as gaming, advertising technology, mobile technology, e-commerce, video, convergence, social media, convergence technology, and other cutting-edge areas. Participants attend networking events, conduct mentoring sessions with top industry pros, and network with their British business counterparts.

The linchpin of the program, and of other tech cooperation between the two countries, is the UK-Israel Tech Hub, a Foreign Office-run organization dedicated to enhancing the digital relationship between the two countries. Britain is the first – and only – country to have established (in 2012) a special government-sponsored mission in Israel for this purpose. The program has been such a success that in 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron, announced the appointment a special Tech Envoy to Israel, an appointment Cameron said he hoped would even further enhance tech relations between the two countries.

“This agreement is a celebration of the international nature of scientific activity and recognizes that Britain and Israel, two countries that share scientific excellence, can augment their individual contributions to mankind through high-level collaboration,” said Arnon. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The agreement serves also as a clear statement in support of the unfettered exchange of ideas. The fellowships program, the central feature of the MoU, will foster research ties among early career scientists that will hopefully continue throughout their scientific careers – thus further enhancing the scientific relations between our countries.”

“International collaboration is essential to progress in science,” Royal Society President Nurse said. “The UK is a world leader in science and it important that we make it possible for the best researchers from around the world to work here. The international insights and perspectives they bring also help strengthen UK science. Collaboration not only increases our scientific knowledge but improves our culture and economy too.”

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