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.”
âThere are hardly any companies currently using synthetic biology technologies, an area that is much more developed in academia. We are looking to bridge this knowledge between the two sectors, âZeevi explained, predictingâ many more Israeli startups in this field in the next 10 to 20 years â.
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.
âSynthetic biology combined with artificial intelligence is the future of industry in Israel,â Lemelshtrich Latar said in a phone interview, adding that these technologies touch areas like sustainability and agriculture where capacity is improved. detecting air pollution, for example, could be advanced. âThis is a great opportunity for the IDC to advance multidisciplinary research and even expand into new areas. “
Roni Cohen, head of service labs at HyLabs, told The Times of Israel that “synthetic biology can be seen as the new industrial revolution because it can affect all aspects of our lives.”
As an example, he mentioned an exciting project currently being developed by NASA to grow a type of lettuce that could also serve as an antibiotic or pain reliever for astronauts traveling in space, thus alleviating the need to bring pill bottles which can in any case lose effectiveness over time.
Using synthetic biology methods, scientists can also “make a type of fertilizer for the agricultural sector that uses no 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 imaging technologies, he said.
And in the pharmaceutical industry, scientists can design and develop âsmartâ drugs that will target key areas of the body, depending on the condition or disease. âWith cancer, think of it as the opposite of chemotherapy which can harm everything. It would be a much more targeted therapy, âhe 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.
âIt 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,â 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 âafter a year of extensive research, the authority has identified synthetic biology as an innovative infrastructure area based on vast knowledge multidisciplinary breakthroughs in academia â, which will ideally lead to a multitude of new Israeli companies in the field.