Israel’s southern city of Yeruham is hoping to become home to the nation’s first vaccine manufacturing factory, and is calling on international firms to set up a joint venture locally, enticing them with a government grant and the skilled workforce of a local drug manufacturing plant.
The initiative comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly supported a Health Ministry initiative earlier this month to set up a vaccine manufacturing plant in Israel.
In December, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Israel should set up a factory to produce vaccines, in light of a shortage of these in times of need. The subject has been rendered even more urgent since the spread of the coronavirus, which has seen over 1,300 patients die in China as authorities globally scramble to find ways to cure and contain the disease.
“The global vaccine industry is concentrated and limited,” Litzman wrote in a letter to Netanyahu, asking him to support the initiative of setting up a local vaccine factory that will independently produce flu and possibly other vaccines, according to the Hebrew news website Ynet.
“In light of the health minister and the prime minister’s initiative to set up a vaccine manufacturing plant in Israel, I have been working with regulators at the various ministries to make this happen in Yeruham,” Mayor Tal Ohana told The Times of Israel.
Yeruham, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Tel Aviv, has been economically depressed for years, fighting high unemployment levels and a downtrodden image. Since taking office in November 2018, Ohana has been trying to boost the town’s image by steering it in new directions, such as medical cannabis, and promoting tech-based high-salary industries, such as pharmaceutical research and development.
The city is already home to an R&D facility of international generics drug manufacturer Perrigo Co. And Yeruham will be the site of Israel’s first medical cannabis incubator, with the government allocating the initiative an estimated NIS 150 million ($44 million) over the next five years.
“My aim is set up a vaccine manufacturing factory that will be export oriented to nearby markets, and ensures a steady supply of vaccinations for the Israeli population,” she said.
Yeruham is considered a national priority area for investments by the government, which allows land to be allocated without a tender and provides subsidies of 90 percent of the costs of developing sites for industrial purposes. Factories set up within the city are eligible to grants of some NIS 100 million ($29.3 million), Ohana said, along with an easing of regulations to ensure success.
“We are now seeking an international corporation that specializes in vaccines to set up a joint venture locally,” Ohana said. “A month and a half ago I approached Perrigo on the subject, and the firm said they’d be happy to help find an international party for the project. Because of the Perrigo plant that is operating locally, we have a highly skilled population that could be employed at the new vaccine plant as well.”