Israel Innovation Authority establishes synthetic biology R&D company with $ 5 million in funding

The Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) has formed a company that will provide synthetic biology research and services to emerging Israeli startups and established companies in the fields of health, agriculture, energy, food technology, defense and security.

Synthetic biology is a multidisciplinary field of science that involves creating new biological entities and systems or redesigning existing ones to provide new capabilities. The technology is used across industries to develop solutions such as new pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines, diagnostic tools, food ingredients such as flavors, biosensors, industrial materials and biofuels, among many other applications. .

The new company (not yet named), announced last week by The IIA, will work on developing the technological infrastructure to enable Israeli companies to tap into synthetic biology capabilities, with initial funding of NIS 18 million ( $ 5.5 million) for the first year.

The initiative’s total budget is expected to reach NIS 40 million ($ 12.38 million) subject to pre-defined targets, Aviv Zeevi, vice president of the IAA’s technology infrastructure division, told The Times of Israel. These include signing employment contracts with Israeli companies and organizations, acquiring equipment, and recruiting scientists and engineering professionals.

Zeevi said the effort was part of the “IIA’s strategy to develop advanced research facilities and bring Israeli universities and industry closer together more effectively.”

“There are hardly any companies currently using synthetic biology technologies, a much more developed field in academia. We are looking to bridge this knowledge between the two sectors, ”Zeevi explained, predicting“ many more Israeli startups in this field in the next 10 to 20 years ”.

Scientists analyzing the DNA helix and editing the genome in organisms, CRISPR technology (elenabs via iStock by Getty Images)

To this end, the new IIA company was formed in cooperation with Hy Laboratories (HyLabs), a Rehovot-based diagnostics company that develops tools to detect and identify microorganisms, and the new Innovation Center of the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) headed by Prof. Noam Lemelshtrich Latar.

“Synthetic biology combined with artificial intelligence is the future of industry in Israel,” Lemelshtrich Latar said in a phone interview, adding that these technologies touch on areas like sustainability and agriculture where the capabilities for Better detection of air pollution, for example, could be advanced. “This is a great opportunity for the IDC to advance multidisciplinary research and even expand into new areas. “

Dr Roni Cohen, director of service laboratories and new CEO of HyLabs, told The Times of Israel that “synthetic biology can be seen as the new industrial revolution because it can touch all aspects of our lives.”

As an example, he cited a exciting project currently being developed by NASA to grow a type of lettuce that could also serve as an antibiotic or pain reliever for space-traveling astronauts, alleviating the need to bring in pill bottles that can, anyway, waste their effectiveness over time.

Using synthetic biology methods, scientists can also “make a type of fertilizer for the agricultural sector that does not use any chemicals, only less polluting, cheaper and faster microorganisms,” Cohen said. . Researchers can also produce bacteria to help detect and monitor soil contaminants, and eventually break them down.

In the security and defense industry, synthetic biologists can produce bacteria that can help dig up mines or detect radars in enemy territory by attaching themselves to materials and emitting fluorescents that can then be picked up by them. imaging technologies, he said.

And in the pharmaceutical industry, scientists can design and develop “smart” drugs that will target key areas of the body, depending on the condition or disease. “With cancer, think of it as the opposite of chemotherapy which can harm everything. It would be a much more targeted therapy, ”he said.

The possibilities, according to Cohen, are endless “even if they look like science fiction.”

The idea, said The IIA’s Zeevi, is for Israeli and foreign companies to hire the new company to develop various applications according to their specific needs.

Zeevi added that the partnerships with IDC and HyLabs have two advantages. First, HyLabs is a well-established private company with nearly 50 years of experience providing microbiology and molecular biology products and services to a list of clients. And second, IDC is a relatively small university that will invest all of its efforts to make the business a success.

He said a number of strategic partners have already expressed interest in the company’s services, including two of Israel’s largest defense companies, Rafael and Elbit, as well as Ginkgo Bioworks, a privately-owned US biotechnology company founded. by scientists at MIT.

The activities of the IIA company will be divided between the HyLabs headquarters in Rehovot and the IDC campus in Herzliya.

“It all starts with computational biology and bioinformatics, so the IDC will start by identifying the genes needed depending on the application, after which HyLabs will build the necessary organism in a wet lab,” Cohen said. The next step is the screening and functional testing of the product, also at HyLabs, followed by the production of the microorganisms to be tested in a field laboratory, coordinated by IDC.

Israel Innovation Authority CEO Dror Bin said in a statement that “after a year of in-depth research, the authority has identified synthetic biology as an innovative infrastructure area based on vast knowledge. multidisciplinary breakthroughs in academia ”, which will ideally lead to a multitude of new Israeli companies in the field.

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