The ‘heart’ of the Start-Up Nation

Israel is a world leader in cardiovascular technology, says one of Israel’s top cardiologists – and much of that is due to the plethora of start-ups working in the biotech, and especially cardiology, sectors

The “geko” device (Photo credit: Talia Alek)
The “geko” device (Photo credit: Talia Alek)

Israel is the start-up nation not only for Internet and computer technology — it’s also the start-up nation in medicine and biotechnology, according to Professor Haim Lotan, director of the Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem Heart Institute. “There are hundreds of start-ups in Israel working just in the area of cardiology, among the many other start-ups in the medical area, and the technology sector overall,” he said

Lotan was the co-chair of one of the world’s most important cardiology conferences — “Innovations in Cardiovascular Interventions” (ICI) conference, which took place in Tel Aviv this week. Over 1,200 attendees heard lectures and saw presentations about all aspects of heart care, from new techniques, products, and services. Discussions and presentations included everything from novel stent technologies to the use of stem cells in battling heart disease, to the technology behind heart care.

Most of the world’s largest health care companies and universities were represented; among the keynote speakers were Omar Ishrak, chairman and chief executive officer of Medtronic, Stanton Rowe, chief scientific officer of Edwards Lifesciences, Martin Leon, director of the Center for Interventional Vascular Therapy of Columbia University Medical Center, and many others.

While most people wouldn’t associate the idea of a start-up industry with cardiology, Lotan told the Times of Israel on the sidelines of the ICI conference that there was actually a strong connection between the two, especially for Israel. “Israel is the leader in stent technology, and a top country in imaging, valves, and other important areas of cardiology,” said Lotan — and much of that success has stemmed from developments by Israeli companies that eventually made their way to the wide world, either through marketing and sales by local companies, or through partnerships and buyouts by medical multinationals.

To that end, ICI dedicated a whole day to teaching medical industry entrepreneurs how to succeed in the business, sponsoring an event called Academy of Innovation. “You can be born an inventor, but with out start-up savvy your idea will never get out of the lab and benefit people,” said Lotan. “We want to show young entrepreneurs how to use their skills and ensure that their ideas are a success.”

Among the topics covered at the event were ““How to Develop Your Innovative Cardiovascular Therapy Idea,” “How to Determine if a New Device is Needed,” “Essentials of Creativity,” and much more.

In addition to the Academy program, ICI held a competition for start-ups, with companies strutting their stuff at a “technology parade” and a panel of judges picking the best one, based on technology, market need, and business plan. The contest was open to all comers, and the winner turned out to be a British company, Sky Medical Ltd, which won the title for a device called “geko,” a noninvasive method to prevent deep vein thrombosis.

The device uses patented technology to stimulate the nerve at the back of the knee, and stimulate contraction of the calf, shin and foot muscles, improving blood circulation and oxygen levels almost equivalent of walking but when the patient is not mobile, such as after surgery or during a long haul airplane journey. The company believes that the technology can replace cumbersome foot pumps or other mechanical devices that are the standard equipment for treatment of this condition.

The fact that a British company won the contest at an Israeli event just shows how important the Israeli contribution to cardiology has become. “There have been many acquisitions of Israeli start-ups, and many Israeli companies have opened sales offices in the U.S. and Europe, so Israel has a reputation as being a world center in cardiology,” said Lotan. “I am sure that some of the Israeli start-ups that presented at ICI will be making big news in the future, as many of the start-ups that exhibited here in the past already have.”

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