No Israeli businesses or researchers were represented at the 2013 Life Science Innovation Northwest biotech and biomedical conference this July at the Washington State Convention Center, but two savvy and shrewd Jewish communal leaders, Charles Broches and Barry Kaplan, are committed to changing the status quo.
The event, sponsored by the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, drew nearly 1,000 participants from 20 states and 12 countries representing researchers from private and public companies, industry executives, investment bankers, research institutions, and global health organizations.
In a couple of years, as Broches and Kaplan continue to expand their contacts and connections at the WBBA, it’s very likely that Israel will partake of the life science bounty in this region.
“This is an area that is very hot in Israel, and it’s very hot up here,” said Broches, founder of The Broches Group, a public affairs, government relations and strategic communications firm. Broches sits on the board of the Washington-Israel Business Council. He is also the former assistant executive vice president for community development at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.
The WBBA asked Broches to serve on its steering committee not only for his community involvement but also for his ability to bring WIBC members into the group. The WIBC invited its member list to the conference, however the initial response was low.
Broches said that although their efforts are in the early stages, the target is well within reach.
“Our goal here is to think of a way of putting Washington State’s biotech and biomedical on the map of Israeli companies,” he said, “and to strategically develop those relationships, so that there’s more business and research interaction between Israelis and Washingtonians.”
Even though Israel is one of the countries leading the world of research in the battle against diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, and it holds the patents on several technologies associated with those breakthroughs, the growing Northwest life science sector has yet to make those connections.
Blockbuster Israeli companies like Amdocs have a strong presence in Seattle, and Microsoft employs hundreds of Israelis locally.
“Since Israel is a world center of technology and innovation, including in the life sciences arena, as is Seattle, the potential for finding matches and good connections would seem obvious,” said Kaplan, who is a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati Kaplan and WIBC board member.
WBBA’s 500 members represent a wide array of global health specialties, from bio-agriculture and biofuels to cancer research, infectious diseases, regenerative medicine, and health care information technology.
“Just walking through the poster presentations and listening to the podium presentations of the life sciences executives, one could see the associations,” said Kaplan. “Some of our local Northwest companies are working on the same problems, diseases, and issues, as are Israeli companies.”
The latest innovations in the Northwest include local WBBA biotech companies like Alder Biopharmaceuticals in Bothell, which developed an anti-migraine drug and a drug for autoimmune diseases developed in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb.
A Seattle company, Adaptive Biotechnologies, which emerged from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, developed a much sought-after “immune system profiling technology” that helps identify compatible study subjects for clinical trials.
Another Seattle company, Omeros, is working on a combination of anti-inflammatory drugs for surgeons to use in treating neurological disorders.
According to WBBA president and CEO Chris Rivera, the Israel tech sector would be a natural fit.
“It would be good to grow this over the upcoming years,” Rivera told JTNews.
“The goal for the next two days,” said Rivera in his opening address at the conference, “is to highlight the strengths and innovation found in the Northwest’s life science community. It is also to help facilitate partnerships and collaborations that will help support the continued growth of life sciences in the Northwest and beyond.”
Broches admitted these relationships take time and a certain amount of nurturing, so they won’t come about quickly. It begins with networking and gauging the level of interest on both sides.
But first, he said, he’s got to get the attention of this diverse group of researchers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and executives who travel the usual circuit of high-tech hubs.
“They generally go to the East Coast, Boston, New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia,” said Broches. “Then they go the L.A. and to the Silicon Valley and go home. They are not aware of the depth and the diversity of what’s going on in Washington State.”