Texas Senator Proposes Bill for US-Israel Medical Partnership
US Senator Ted Cruz speaks with supporters at a rally in Henderson, Nevada, February 21, 2016. (Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

Texas Senator Proposes Bill for US-Israel Medical Partnership

Senator Ted Cruz has co-sponsored legislation to promote US-Israel collaboration on the development of technology in the fight against COVID-19

Senator Ted Cruz is leading the effort to establish a bilateral cooperative program that joins American and Israeli resources to battle the ongoing pandemic.

The United States has recently become the epicenter of COVID-19. The US has over 1.6 million confirmed cases and 95,000 deaths due to the virus to date.

Legislation such as the CARES Act, the FFCRA Act, and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act has been enacted to provide much-needed financial assistance to individuals, businesses and government agencies.

In addition to these measures, Cruz has proposed a plan to further the effort to combat COVID-19 through the Expanding Medical Partnerships with Israel to Lessen Dependence on China (EMPIL-DOC) Act.

Cruz has referred to America’s dependency on China as “deeply problematic,” and has said that “expanding partnerships with Israel, an ally and global leader in medicine … is a common-sense step.”

This proposal aligns with the existing relationship between Israel and Cruz’s home state of Texas. Bilateral trade between Texas and Israel can act as a blueprint in his push for the EMPIL-DOC Act’s passage.

According to the Texas-Israel Alliance (formerly Chamber of Commerce), trade between Texas and Israel totals $2 billion to $3 billion per year. Aerospace, energy and water technologies are among the numerous components of their trade relationship.

Texas, which faces issues of water scarcity, benefits from Israel’s innovation in water technology. Israel, which has significant natural gas reserves, benefits from Texas’ leadership in the oil and gas industry.

Noble Energy, a Houston-based company, is among the most notable examples of how American and Israeli resources can produce mutually beneficial relationships. Since 1999, Noble has operated off the Mediterranean coast, developing Israel’s natural gas resources as a cleaner and safer alternative to coal and oil.

Toba Hellerstein of the Texas-Israel Alliance believes that Israel is an ideal innovative partner for the US. “Israel has been on the cutting edge of medical technology,” Hellerstein said. “Israel has the advantage of doing [health care research and development] in a more centralized way. Their government incentivizes innovation.”

In March, the Israel Innovation Authority, Health Ministry, and the Headquarters for the National Digital Israel Initiative announced plans to grant Israeli companies 50 million shekels (about $14 million) for the research and development of systems, products or technologies created for the treatment of COVID-19.

Recently, the Israel Institute for Biological Research filed patent requests for eight types of coronavirus antibodies. Antibodies are essential in developing treatments for infectious diseases like COVID-19. Although Israel’s Health Ministry currently has no comment concerning these patents, former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett stated that the patents are “another important step in developing a cure.”

Senator Cruz is not alone in his partnership proposal. The bill has bipartisan support from several senators, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. “Our cooperation on health technologies to fight COVID-19 can help all Americans, Israelis and the rest of the world,” Coons said.

Prior to the introduction of the EMPIL-DOC Act, the Texas-Israel Alliance hosted the Healthcare and Life Sciences Innovation Conference in October 2019. A key objective of the conference was to discuss possible plans for the US government to open a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) office in Israel. An FDA office in Israel would make for a more efficient process during the exchange of technology between the two countries.

The Texas-Israel Alliance is also responsible for the partnership between University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Rabin Medical Center in Israel. “Right now we do a lot of work with Texas Medical Center [by] getting Israeli technology incorporated in the hospitals,” Hellerstein said. “Rabin Medical Center actually dedicated itself to COVID-19 patients for several months. Now we’re working to create a partnership between their COVID-19 experts and the UT system.”

If the EMPIL-DOC Act becomes law, Cruz and Coons have said they intend to “press for a $12 million appropriation … to develop innovative medical projects aimed at detecting, treating, and curing COVID-19.”

The EMPIL-DOC proposal also includes plans to follow-up with a $4 million per year appropriation from the Department of Health and Human Services in the fiscal years 2021-2023. The annual payout would go toward grants for the development of health technologies.

The technologies mentioned in the bill are artificial intelligence, sensors, monitoring devices, drugs and vaccinations, respiratory assist devices, diagnostic tests, telemedicine, and remote monitoring.

Funding for the partnership would be subject to a matching contribution from the Israeli government. However, that does not seem to be an issue as Cruz’s bill seeks to fund the program through existing frameworks for joint US-Israel research projects.

Following the announcement of the proposal, Cruz stated, “I’m proud to push forward to ensure both American and Israeli companies can work together to develop cures and treatments to defeat COVID-19.”

Carla Michelle Warren is a student in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.

 

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