Some of the innovative scientific developments behind cutting-edge food technologies, as well as new cancer treatments, will take center stage at next week’s upcoming Biomed Israel Summit, an annual conference on life sciences and health technologies. health which will bring together scientists, health professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors from dozens of countries around the world.
This year, the three-day conference celebrates its 20th anniversary with 10 different themes – infectious diseases, robotics in the medical field, AI and machine learning, among others, in addition to diagnostics and precision therapies against cancer, and “bio-food”. and its impact on human health. Each track will be chaired by a professional leader in its relevant field and the conference, which organizers say expects around 6,000 people, will also host an exhibition where hundreds of Israeli companies can showcase their products and technologies.
Dr. Tammy Meiron, CTO of Israeli incubator Fresh Start Food Tech and chair of the food tech pipeline, told The Times of Israel that the sessions will focus on “bio-food technologies and how we adapt biotechnology in food technology to produce more sustainable food.
“There is a growing consensus that because of the climate crisis, we need to find better ways to feed the growing population. [world] population. There is a growing demand for food and there are ethical aspects to growing our food from animals,” Meiron said.
“This younger generation is more aware of this [issue], and it is also the first generation to realize the dangers of the climate crisis,” she added. These dangers have been described as a “red code for humanity” that requires urgent action by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“We have a window of about 10 years. It is essential that we provide solutions in the field of food technology,” she said.
Meiron is an experienced food tech professional, having headed the protein department at US biochemical company Sigma Aldrich (later acquired by Merck) where she led the production of over 450 different proteins and enzymes, before joining Fresh Start. in 2019.
The food tech incubator, based in the city of Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, is a project led by the Israel Innovation Authority in collaboration with Israeli company Tnuva, beverage company Tempo, the Israeli investment firm OurCrowd and Finistere Ventures, a global investor in food technology and agritech.
“We incubate companies for 2-3 years and take them to the next level of investment. So far, we have supported 40 companies,” she explained.
Fresh Start is currently working with seven companies, including one developing cell-cultured fish and two working on sugar-reduction technologies.
At next week’s conference, a number of well-known companies will be presenting, including Aleph Farms, a cultured meat maker that produces steaks from modified bovine cells, Wilk, a developer of animal-free cultured milk and cell-based human milk
Meiron believes that food technologies such as cultured meat and fish, alternative proteins, animal-free milk and dairy products, and many more can help ensure food security in the decades to come. “The climate and agriculture will no longer be the same. We’re going to have to adapt,” she said.
His background at the Biomed conference will cover new biotech technologies that are now being applied to food production to help solve these problems and free the reliance on traditional agriculture for more sustainable methods.
Challenges facing the industry will also be discussed, including pricing, scalability, resources and infrastructure. “It costs thousands of dollars to make food in a lab, it’s a huge problem. We need people to choose these options as food,” Meiron said.
At the same time, investors are flocking to the industry. “We’ve seen a dramatic acceleration over the past 2 years, VCs now all want a piece of food tech. We’re seeing a lot of money [being invested] because of the understanding that this is a critical issue,” she said.
In Israel, the alternative protein sector, a segment of its vibrant food tech industry, grew around 450% in 2021 from a year earlier, with Israeli startups in the field raising some $623 million. investment, according to a report published in March. The Good Food Institute (GFI) Israel, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote research and innovation in food technologies, found that the $623 million in investments represented about 12% of the global capital raised for the sector in the world last year (about $5 billion) and was “second only to the United States”.
The next step in food tech, Meiron said, was “enabling technology that facilitates technology from companies that have already raised funds, to lower prices, etc.”
In oncology, the next step is “precision oncology” where cancer treatments are tailored based on individual biology, said Dr. Ofer Sharon, CEO of OncoHost, the developer of a blood test to predict how well cancer patients will respond to treatment. Sharon will chair the Biomed track which examines advances in cancer therapies and precision therapies, driven by biomarkers and artificial intelligence tools.
Today, most cancer treatment plans are “protocol-based and given to everyone, whether it’s a 74-year-old woman or a 35-year-old man; they will receive the same treatment,” Sharon said.
“Chemotherapy is like a carpet of bombs and it doesn’t differentiate between healthy cells and cancerous cells,” he explained. “The field is now evolving to focus on specific targets and tailor treatment to the level of the mutation” while offering personalized, biology-based care.
The track will hear from two types of companies – those developing targeted drugs that attack specific mutations and those, like Oncohost, that research individual biomarkers.
“We look for the biological indications that affect treatment…to determine if a patient is going to respond to treatment” or help identify another, Sharon said.
Another company in this field is Nucleai, which uses computer vision and machine learning to study the characteristics of tumors to help pharmaceutical companies predict who will respond to drugs.
This burgeoning field also faces key issues, such as regulatory hurdles and the need for a medical “paradigm shift,” Sharon said.
“The fight against cancer is a war, and we understand that there is a price. You have to ‘kill the entity’ and doctors want to act as quickly as possible,” Sharon explained. Precision medicine takes a different approach that can take longer but can be much more effective.
The industry also needs closer collaboration with big pharma. “There are great drugs out there, but they work for a minority of patients. To treat cancer, we need to better understand this complex disease. It requires education and more awareness,” Sharon said.
On the regulatory side, he said, “there is no regulatory body that can approve [the technologies] in an effective way. There is also no regulatory body that specifically reviews AI and machine learning-based technologies.
“There’s a lot of work to be done for market adoption,” Sharon said.
The Biomed conference will take place May 10-12 in Tel Aviv. It is co-chaired by Ruti Alon, founder and CEO of Medstrada, a food technology venture capital fund, Dr Ora Dar, consultant and expert in medical sciences and health innovation and former head of the health and life at the Israel Innovation Authority, and Dr. Nissim Darvish, Managing Partner of MeOHR Ventures, a private equity firm that focuses on breakthrough cures for serious diseases.