The "Innovations in Cardiovascular Interventions" (ICI) conference that took place this week in Tel Aviv is one of the largest international conferences in the field of cardiovascular intervention. Rambam Health Care Campus director general Prof. Rafael Beyar and Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem Heart Institute director Prof. Chaim Lotan who co-chaired the conference, spoke to "Globes" about the latest trends in cardiovascular intervention.
Lotan: "Israel is a world power in innovation - the top in terms of patents per capita, and first in terms of start up companies. In all of Silicon Valley there are 700 start ups. In Israel, there are 1,000 and only 7 million people - about the same amount as in Silicon Valley."
Israel is a leader in cardiology innovation. Stents, heart valves that are inserted by catheters, devices to navigate in the heart, innovative pace makers - Israelis have significantly contributed to all of these important recent innovations in the cardiology device industry.
What are the latest innovations in cardiology?
Beyar: "Innovations in stents do not receive a lot of attention, but a biodegradable polymer stent that dissolves completely within a few months or years is one interesting innovation.
"Technical problems still exist though; the stents are either not strong enough and break inside the artery, or they dissolve too quickly and cause inflammation. At the moment, I'm not sure that they will replace coated metal stents. They might become a niche product for a certain type of occlusions."
The latest popular products are valves. The heart has four valves that control the direction of blood flow, which wear out with age. Synthetic valves that can be implanted using catheters and without surgery are currently being marketed.
The valve developed by Israeli company Percutaneous Valve Technologies, Inc. (PVT), which was acquired by US Edwards Lifesciences LLC, is one of the leading products. "This is a true life-prolonging product, and there are very few new products like it," Beyar says.
Other medical device companies have begun to understand this potential, among them Medtronic, which acquired Israel's Ventor Technologies. "There are another ten types of valves on their way to market," Beyar says. However, this technology also carries certain risks: "2% of patients who undergo minimal invasive valve replacement surgery suffer from a stroke as a result of an embolism," Beyar says. "Therefore, the next innovation needs to be a technology that protects the brain during the procedure."
Beyar is very enthusiastic about the electrophysiology technology developed by Biosense, which was founded by Prof. Shlomo Ben-Haim, and in which Beyar himself was involved before it was sold to Johnson & Johnson for $550 million. The company's R&D center is located in Israel and employs a few hundred people. The company develops products that can map the heart from inside, can navigate inside it, and can also carry out the ablation of specific points - in order to improve heart function.
"This is currently one of Johnson & Johnson's strongest businesses," Beyar says." Biosense products can be found in every hospital around the world. I ask them if they know that this product was developed in Haifa, and no one does."
A long way to go
Lotan also believes that in the near future these products will be the most popular ones, along with sensors that are implanted in the body. Lotan says that the next true breakthrough will be the integration of implanted sensors and telemedicine, which would enable patients to receive an immediate response to what is happening in their body without leaving their home.
Lotan believes that significant trends in cardiology innovations are no longer based solely on products. "The market is changing; large companies no longer rely solely on US and European markets as they used to. Large markets have expanded in the Far East and in South America. Products for these locations are less complicated, but are aimed at a larger target population."
The distant future of cardiology will probably involve stem cell technology. "There is a lot of know-how about this field in Israel," Beyar says. "Initial trials show that heart function can be slightly improved, but we still have a long way to go."
A few years ago, Rambam Medical Center's Prof. Lior Gepstein presented results of a study in which stem cell tissue developed into heart cells. Granted, they don't look like a heart, but they beat rhythmically.
"Gepstein is one of the young researchers that I wanted to make sure would remain in my institution, even though he received offers from all over the world," says Beyar. "But his research is still very experimental. I hope that we will be able to find a large company to invest the necessary funds for this development."
What solutions in cardiology most needed today seem to be looming around the corner?
Beyar: "There are still no diagnostic solutions or quality treatments for heart failure. One of the most amazing new solutions is the ventricular assist device (VAD), which mechanically supports the heart. Implanting a VAD prevents having to replace the heart with an artificial one. The device already exists, but is so expensive that only a small number of patients can afford it. It is very important that the cost for this product is brought down quickly.
"In addition, cardiology has begun looking at the brain, specifically opening an artery during a severe stroke. But this is complicated, because brain arteries are twisting, the tissue is soft, and special equipment is required. As a result, only five of our 100 interventional cardiologists specialize in brains, despite the fact that the number of strokes is not much smaller."
Life - "Like"
Life sciences entrepreneurs can locate partners, service providers, and even investors, on the new ICINET social network, a project launched at the ICI conference this week in Tel Aviv.
In addition to helping locate professionals according to name, users can define their requests on the website, and the ICINET network will recommend parties with which they can cooperate. The site also includes articles, presentations, forums and blogs.
The E-Med group is also a network partner that operates a site for medical professionals. E-Med CEO Boaz Ginsburg says, "It was clear to all of us that the worldwide and Israeli medical communities needed a forum that would bring doctors together with entrepreneurs and investors more often than once a year, so we looked for a way to accomplish this."
The Israeli lifesciences community already has a few social networks, among them Israel Life Science Industry in LinkedIn, Israel Bio Professionals, as well as the Circle of Life social network group.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 8, 2011
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011