Israeli start-ups pitch promising health technologies

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With the highest density of start-up companies in the world, Israel is more likely than any other country to produce the next big idea, venture capitalists predict, on par with instant messaging, the Waze navigation app and the swallowable imaging capsule – all of which were developed in Israel. Could that next big idea be an inexpensive pocket-size ultrasound device or an app that keeps you from becoming diabetic?

Israeli medical technology executives hoped to convince industry folks that their new products were going to transform health care at a forum last Tuesday at Adventist Healthcare in Gaithersburg.

Leaders from 10 Israeli technology companies pitched prototypes for medical devices, personal health apps and sophisticated medical records data systems to a gathering of health-care executives and consultants in an effort to generate future investments.

“As American health care moves away from fee for service and enters a different payment model, we’re going to rely more on these technologies to help us engage with health-care providers and to enable patients to become more empowered and make healthier lifestyle choices,” said Arumani Manisundaram, director of Adventist Healthcare’s Center of Connected Health.

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One company, Opisoft Care, was a bit further ahead of the others with its health-care analytics program up and running for the past several years at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv. “We’ve increased their profitability by 30 percent,” said Danny Rothstein, business development director, by using patient notes and medical records to predict, for example, which patients are more likely to develop complications after surgery or get re-admitted to the hospital after discharge. Such information has changed medical practices to enable hospital staff to prevent such problems in high-risk patients.

The company is now looking to enter the U.S. market, he said.

The Israeli technology executives were in town last week to attend the annual Health Summit at the National Harbor where they also presented their start-up offerings to hundreds of investors, researchers and industry colleagues with the hope of gaining crucial funding or collaborations.

After listening to Tal Givoly, CEO of Medivizor, discuss his new free website that provides patients with access to summaries of the latest research on their specific health conditions, Jeremy Brody, executive vice president of the consulting firm Kantar Health, asked Givoly how he planned to differentiate himself from competitors that provide similar search services.

“Your premise is 100 percent correct,” Brody said. “Your challenge is the noise.”

“I think our focus on personalized information is key,” Givoly responded. The algorithm he developed uses the mini-medical profile inputted by a patient or caregiver to find specific treatments or clinical trials that may be useful and will email the report to a patient’s physician.

Other start-up firms made personalization their selling point: Sweetch – an experimental app aimed at the 86 million Americans with pre-diabetes – tracks users’ daily activity and other lifestyle habits to calculate their individual risk of converting to full-blown diabetes. It also finds ways to work in more exercise throughout the day in an effort to lower their diabetes risk.

“It learns your sleep pattern and knows your calendar,” said CEO Dana Chanan. “If you’re early for a meeting, it might direct you to a parking lot further away, allowing you to walk 20 minutes and still be on time.”

An executive from VoiceITT, an Israeli start-up firm developing voice translation technology for those with profound speech disabilities, presented a promising new app called Talkitt that’s expected to be released within six to eight months. A touching video on the company’s website shows a 5-year-old with cerebral palsy saying something incomprehensible to his mother, which the app translates into “I love you.” The app learns to recognize a patient’s individual speech patterns to determine word recognition. The service will cost $20 per month, and early versions will likely have limited vocabularies.

Pocket-sized medical devices unveiled at the meeting delivered a bit of a wow factor. One, a yo-yo-sized fetal heart monitor made by HeraMed, can be used by pregnant women at home to check their baby’s heartbeat throughout the day, which gets transmitted to an app on their smartphone. “It’s a GPS for pregnant women,” said HeraMed CEO David Groberman.

Pregnant women can already purchase home fetal-heart monitors for $25 to $50, but they’re notoriously unreliable and sometimes provide a false sense of reassurance or a false cause of alarm. This new device is “medical grade” and purportedly as good as the device in the doctor’s office, according to HeraMed.

It will require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before it can be marketed in the United States.

A portable ultrasound device, also requiring FDA approval, could be put in the pocket of a doctor’s lab coat and become as ubiquitous as the stethoscope, said Isaac Raviv, CEO of SonoPal, the company that makes the device. The device is battery operated, connects to any smartphone and at $600 is cheaper than the $8,000 cost for other portable ultrasound devices currently on the market. Primary care physicians have been slow to adopt such devices in their practices because of the cost and length of time it takes to learn how to interpret the images.

The Adventist Healthcare event was co-sponsored by the Maryland/Israel Development Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes industry ties between Maryland and Israeli firms and research
institutions.

Deborah Kotz, a former Boston Globe reporter, writes occasional articles for WJW.

 

Grants available for Israeli-American collaboration

Anat Katz, minster-counselor for economic affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, attended the mHealth Summit at the National Harbor last week to promote joint industry initiatives between Israeli and American companies.

What kinds of grants are available?
Most of the money awarded comes from the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation, which has a $110 million endowment established years ago by the Israeli chief scientist and the American government. In 2014, BIRD approved $8.9 million in funding for 11 new projects that are collaborations between American and Israeli companies. Some are for medical technologies but they can be for any technology as long as it’s novel, rather than a me-too product, and is close to entering the market. BIRD provides up to 50 percent of the funding for the product’s development.

Grants are also available to companies in Maryland, which enter partnerships with Israeli firms through the Maryland/Israel Development Center. Both of these nonprofit organizations also help with matchmaking for those who have a good idea but need another company’s expertise to help develop it and bring it to market.

Do the grants come with strings attached?
Companies that fail to bring their products to market aren’t required to return any of their funding. If they succeed, they must pay the full amount back within one year or pay back 150 percent of the grant within five years. The philosophy is that it’s really important to support risk and share some of it. Failure of some projects is expected.

Have there been success stories?
Definitely. There was a BIRD Foundation grant provided to the American company 3M and an Israeli company Cadent that involved 3D imaging for
orthodontics. Orthodontists were able to optimize the location of brackets using digital models of teeth, which eliminates the need for plaster models. The system reduced costs and length of treatment time. Cadent has since been acquired by Align Technologies for $190 million.

– Deborah Kotz

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