Investments by pharmaceutical companies in medical research led by hospital doctors in Israel continue to grow consistently. A Ministry of Health report appearing in "Globes" for the first time states that drug companies invested NIS 557 million in medical research at public and Clalit Health Services (CHS) hospitals in 2015, compared with NIS 468 million in 2014 and NIS 366 million in 2012. The figures do not include financing for hospitals run by non-profit organizations, such as Hadassah, Shaare Zedek, Mayanei HaYeshua, and others.
According to the report, composed by the Ministry of Health committee for commercial interaction headed by Uzi Keren, the number of requests for agreements between hospital research funds and pharmaceutical companies totaled 1,671 in 2015, compared with 1,521 requests in 2012. Surprisingly, when asked how many requests the committee had rejected, the Ministry of Health answered, "All the requests were approved." The committee convened no fewer than 23 times in 2015. The Ministry of Health explained that the committee sometimes demanded further explanation or changes in the cost structure (such as limiting flights to 10% of the total cost) from a hospital research fund, but there were no cases justifying a general refusal. The Ministry of Health said that the hospital research fund, not the committee for commercial interactions, was responsible for checking about a possible conflict of interest, such as a business relationship between the research doctor and the drug companies.
Another problem mentioned in the report is the inability to connect the financing entity with the entity receiving the financing and conducting the research. The report lists the cumulative amount invested by each pharmaceutical company, without stating which hospitals and doctors received financing and for what purpose.
The report indicates that the largest amount of financing was granted to the Rambam government hospital in Haifa NIS 95 million in 209 different agreements, compared with NIS 68 million in 2014 and "only" NIS 38 million in 2012. Beilinson, a CHS hospital, was in second place with NIS 89 million in investments from the drug companies for 250 research projects in 2015. Sheba Medical Center came third with investments totaling NIS 69 million, following by Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) with NIS 67 million and CHS hospital Meir Medical Center with financing amounting to NIS 39 million. Small hospitals, such as Ziv Medical Center in Safed, Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera, Poriya Medical Center near Tiberias, and Hasharon Medical Center in Petah Tikva, received less than NIS 10,000 in 2015.
"Research in Israel yields good results"
The leading drug company in investments in medical research in Israel is MSD, which spent NIS 40 million on financing 76 research projects in 2015, compared with NIS 25 million in 2014 and only NIS 14 million in 2012.
"Drug companies have realized that research in Israel yields good results," Keren explained to "Globes." "There were some years in which the companies fled to Eastern Europe, where it was easy for them to recruit patients and pay less, but they came back to us after they realized that the results of research in Israel were authentic, and could be relied upon."
The second biggest investor in Israeli medical research after MSD was Bayer, which spent NIS 37 million on 77 research projects in 2015, followed by AstraZeneca with NIS 36 million on 78 research projects, Novartis with NIS 33 million on 91 research projects, and Pfizer with NIS 31 million invested in 71 research projects. In 10th place was Eli Lilly with NIS 15 million invested in 32 research projects. Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (NYSE: TEVA; TASE: TEVA) invested a modest NIS 4.6 million in 25 research projects in 2015.
Those who are justifiably anxious about the dependence of research and medicine on drug companies will undoubtedly be disappointed to discover that non-commercial entities have almost no presence on this list, with a total absence of large-scale financing. For example, the Israel Cancer Association, which appears on the list of agreements with hospitals this year for the first time, invested a paltry NIS 58,000 in one research project in 2015. The Israel National Institute for Health Policy Research invested NIS 130,000 in one research project in 2015, compared with NIS 576,000 in 2014. The Parkinson's Disease fund invested NIS 48,000 in one research project in 2015, compared with NIS 108,000 in 2014, and the Group for Treatment-Resistant Depression Research invested just NIS 6,500 in one research project in 2015.
The Ministry of Health chief scientist, who according to the report did not finance research in previous years, invested NIS 450,000 in two research projects in 2015. Due to an absence of transparency, it is not clear who received the financing and for what purpose, but the report indicates that the Association of Life Insurance Companies of Israel Research Fund invested NIS 848,000 in one research project in 2015. Strauss Group Ltd. (TASE:STRS), which deals with medicine, spent NIS 17,000 on one research project in 2015.
Record holder: A Meir Medical Center doctor
According to the report, the leader in obtaining investment was Meir Medical Center Oncology Department director Maya Gottfried. Gottfried, a specialist in treatment of lung cancer, received NIS 13.9 million from drug companies for 15 different research projects in 2015.
For the sake of comparison, she obtained only NIS 1.7 million for six research projects in 2014. Second place was taken by another lung cancer specialist, Dr. Mirjana Wollner from Rambam Medical Center, with NIS 12.1 million in financing for nine research projects, followed by Beilinson Hospital Hematology Department Multiple Myeloma Clinic director Dr. Hila Magen-Nativ with NIS 10.3 million for seven research projects.
The big stars who are better known to the public, mainly surgeons, are far back on the list, with little financing for few projects. For example, Sheba Medical Center Catheterization Unit director Prof. Victor Guetta received only NIS 11,000 for one research project, compared with NIS 835,000 for three research projects in 2014. Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center Neurosurgery Department director Prof. Zvi Ram won NIS 196,000 for two research projects he led. Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center Lis Maternity and Women's Hospital director Prof. Yariv Yogev, former star of the Baby Boom series, got NIS 656,000 for six research projects.
Drug companies: Less regulation, please
Idit Chernovitz, secretary-general of Pharma Israel, the organization that represents the ethical drug companies operating in Israel, believes that the Ministry of Health should reduce regulation on clinical research. She said, "The extensive and ongoing investments by multinational pharma companies in research and development have contributed a great deal to Israel's leverage as an attractive international focus of innovation and quality in medicine and the life sciences. However, the number of research projects taking place each year is clearly stagnating, due to the many regulatory barriers encumbering this research in Israel. Research is called off for no reason, delayed, or diverted to competing countries.
"We are living in a challenging era in which the pace of medical technological developments is dramatic, and this requires a change in concept and appropriate preparation by countries and health authorities, among other things with respect to clinical research… we believe that it is possible to increase, even to double, the volume of clinical research activity in Israel."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 20, 2016
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