J&J, Takeda team up to open Israeli biotech incubator

Two of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical firms are collaborating to develop new cures for old ills

Illustrative: A life science graduate student does research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)
Illustrative: A life science graduate student does research at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

A long-awaited biotechnology incubator sponsored by some of the health world’s top companies has opened in the Weizmann Science Park. The FutuRx incubator announced last week that it was open for business – and that it had enrolled its first two members, life sciences start-ups Hepy Biosciences and XoNovo.

FutuRx is the fruit of many months of work by Johnson and Johnson Innovation, the research development arm of the worldwide pharma firm, along with Japanese pharmaceutical giant Takeda Pharmaceuticals and venture capital firm OrbiMed. The Israeli incubator is one of five Innovation Centers sponsored by J&J worldwide, with the others located in San Francisco, Boston, London, and Shanghai.

The Chief Scientist’s Office awarded the companies the tender for establishing the incubator last August. Companies will be enrolled in the incubator for up to three years, and will be funded as much as $2 million, with the Chief Scientist’s Office providing 85% of the funding.

J&J and its partners have pledged more than $28 million to fund companies as well, with the emphasis on early-stage biopharm companies that might not have been able to obtain financing through regular channels, the Chief Scientist’s Office said. J&J has long had a presence in Israel. In 1997, the company bought Haifa-based Biosense, which has about 100 employees in Israel.

The first two members of FutuRx, said CEO Dr. Einat Zisman, fulfill the vision of the biotech revolution the incubator that will “develop potentially transformative new medicines.”

Hepy Biosciences Ltd. is developing a candidate drug that inhibits a specific enzyme activity to stop tumor growth and metastasis. The drug will be considered for pancreatic and lung cancers as well as other potential indications. The company was established based on the work of Professor Israel Vlodavsky’s at the Rappaport Family Research Institute and Faculty of Medicine of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and at the Oncology Department of Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem, and Professor Oded Livnah of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.

XoNovo Ltd. was founded by Dr. Rafi Gidron, the founder and chairman of Israel Brain Technologies and cofounder of Give to Cure, and by Professor Ken Hensley from Toledo University in Ohio. The company is based on the work done at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation by Professor Hensley who has an extensive publication record of twenty years in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. XoNovo is developing a candidate drug targeting a protein implicated in several neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and Batten Disease, a rare, fatal disorder of the nervous system that typically begins in childhood.

“A key aim of Johnson & Johnson Innovation is to find novel ways of advancing the most promising early stage science,” said Patrick Verheyen, Head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, London. “The formation of the new biotechnology incubator in Israel is the product of an important collaboration between government, industry and venture capital that demonstrates a multi partner approach in practice. The collaboration provides a unique platform to support and advance new companies with not only funding, but also strategic advice from both venture capital and industry pharmaceutical development experts.”

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