Expect a ‘Renaissance’ in Medical Innovation, Says OurCrowd Chief
A MigVax researcher works on a COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy MigVax and OurCrowd)

Expect a ‘Renaissance’ in Medical Innovation, Says OurCrowd Chief

Investors turn to healthcare and remote technologies as Israeli firm BATM announces $31M order for ventilators

As the coronavirus pandemic drags on, investors around the world are turning their attention to the healthcare and medical research sectors, hoping for significant returns, but also to become part of the solution to the crisis.

Jonathan Medved, CEO of the Jerusalem-based global investment platform OurCrowd, told The Media Line that the outbreak had shifted the focus of many investors in a way that could have far-reaching implications for medical innovation.

“You’re going to see a complete renaissance. The impact of this crisis on the investment world, especially venture capital, is really interesting,” Medved said.

“A couple of things are becoming apparent: an absolute and renewed focus on healthcare and medical everything, obviously with anything related to the current crisis getting huge attention and support,” he said. “It’s been under-invested until now, particularly in Israel.”

Medved noted that healthcare investment had until very recently paled in comparison to traditional hi-tech areas such as information technology, internet security and semi-conductors, which received the vast majority of funding.

As part of that change, OurCrowd is now focusing its funding efforts on firms dedicated to addressing the pandemic, whether via vaccines, medical technologies or antiviral therapies. The group has $1.4 billion of committed funding and investments in 200 portfolio companies as well as 20 venture funds, and boasts a membership of roughly 40,000 individuals and entities in more than 183 countries.

On Wednesday, OurCrowd announced that it would lead a $12 million investment round for the newly formed Israeli COVID-19 vaccine company MigVax, an affiliate of the state-sponsored Migal Galilee Research Institute located in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona.

“The Holy Grail is the vaccine,” Medved stressed. “We have been working diligently around the world to identify what we think are the best candidates where investment would be appropriate, and we were very fortunate to find this in our backyard with the Migal group.

“This is not just an investment to make money but an investment for all of us. All of us benefit from this,” he added.

The Migal institute has already successfully developed a vaccine against infectious bronchitis, a coronavirus strain that affects poultry.

According to Medved, MigVax’s new COVID-19 vaccine will be adapted from this research. Importantly, it will be administered orally, making it particularly helpful for rapid use and distribution in developing countries.

“It provides a broad range of potential immunity both on the cellular level, mucus membranes and systemic immunity,” he explained. “It doesn’t use a live or dead virus, so it’s a different approach. It’s a platform that should hopefully have utility across a wide range of coronaviruses based on technology that has been proven in different cases.”

While he was unable to say exactly when MigVax’s oral vaccine would make it to market, Medved believes it is likely to be developed more quickly than some of the other vaccine candidates under development around the world.

“The way it’s going to be manufactured is pretty straightforward so we could scale up quickly,” he noted. “But the challenges are real and we are hustling as fast as we can.”

In additional to investors rushing to fund medical research, another noteworthy trend is emerging as a result of the population lockdowns around the globe: the rapid move toward digitization and remote living.

“Trends that began way before the virus hit − whether e-commerce, working from home, distance learning or robotic process automation − have now accelerated to light-speed,” Medved said.

Years from now, people will look back and say the big change started before 2020, but after 2020 they became apparent, obvious and fundamental to everyone,” he explained. “Investing in those companies that may or may not be medical but that are part of these trends is extremely important.”

BATM Announces $31M Order for Ventilators

Not surprisingly, some Israeli medical companies are already seeing a massive spike in demand for their products.

On Wednesday, BATM, a leading provider of medical laboratory systems and networking solutions, announced that it had received a $31 million order to produce ventilators in response to COVID-19.

An undisclosed European government ordered 1,000 ventilators from BATM, which is headquartered in the central Israeli city of Hod Hasharon. BATM’s Celitron subsidiary in Hungary will manufacture the equipment.

Dr. Zvi Marom, founder and CEO of BATM, told The Media Line that the company’s biomed division had long provided medical equipment to hundreds of hospitals across Europe as well as to Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

“We were prepared for a pandemic,” Marom said. “We knew that the minute a respiratory pandemic would [arise], it would be quite hard…. We knew that in the case of viral pneumonias, we would need ventilators, and for years we planned for this.”

Zvi Marom (Courtesy)

The ventilators, which are being described as “high-performance,” feature spontaneous breathing modes that enable synchronization with a patient’s breathing. They have received a full CE certification, indicating conformity with the health, safety and environmental protection standards for sale in the European Economic Area, i.e. the European Union member states as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Some 25% of the ventilators on order are expected to be produced and distributed by the end of June, while the rest will delivered by the end of August.

BATM also manufactures testing kits and reagents used to diagnose COVID-19, with European countries being the primary destination.

“We’ve had a lot of developments,” Marom said. “Some of them are very unique and will be [shown] in the coming year.”

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