In January 2017, the New Reality Solutions (NRS) fund announced that it would invest tens of millions of dollars in Israel - the same amount that it invests in the US, its home country. Today, a year later, it appears that this plan is starting to materialize. The fund, which uses a unique model combining investments in medicine, ecology, and agriculture, has already invested in several Israeli companies, most of which were founded in cooperation with the Volcani Agriculture Institute under a cooperation agreement.
The companies in which NRS has invested deal with the biology of chicks, fish, and fruit in accordance with its vision that our health is affected by what we eat, and by the environment. Furthermore, NRS believes that biological developments for improving agriculture can lead to a breakthrough in understanding biological mechanisms in people, and that agricultural breakthroughs can also be utilized in medicine. NRS therefore advocates integrated development in these areas.
"When you look at the efforts by the health sector to cope on its own with diseases such as cancer, neurological diseases, and metabolic diseases, the return on the investment these companies is bad by any standard," NRS CEO chairperson and CEO Sam Salman told "Globes." "The number of patients suffering from each of these diseases is only increasing. What are the drug companies doing wrong in this context? We think that some of the failure lies in the definition of the problem. Today, human biology is perceived as separate from ecology, agriculture and animal biology, while there is actually a great deal of similarity between these fields, and a lot can be learned if they are researched jointly."
Salman believes that if big data systems dealing with human diseases are connected to ecological and agricultural big data systems, models of an entire system affecting our health will be developed for the first time. "We began considering this thesis in a combined investment model in spheres relating to cancer, metabolic diseases, and the quality of aging."
Interdisciplinary innovation country
NRS operates in New York solely as a consultant firm and investment bank, with a special health arm. It has one investment as a fund - in Mir Diagnostics, a company dealing with early cancer detection. Surprisingly, its other investment activity takes place only in Israel, although it is planning to make additional investments in the US, and is currently raising a fund for this purpose.
Most of NRS's managers are Jews, but this is not the only explanation for its focus on Israel. "Israel is the ultimate interdisciplinary innovation country, because historically, a small population with few resources had to solve quite a few problems, each of which could decide its fate. Actually, you dealt innovatively with all of the world's critical problems."
The NRS's managing partner in Israel is Eli Mor, who met Salman when NRS invested in a company in which Mor previously worked - BioHarvest, controlled by Zaki Rakib, which produces resveratrol (the material in wine grapes that is effective in preventing heart attacks). The fund's activity in Israel began in cooperation with the Volcani Agriculture Institute with an investment in ventures resulting from the institute's research, but has expanded beyond that.
"The Volcani Institute is responsible for 75% of agricultural innovation in Israel," Salman says. "Sometimes they have to innovate not only in order to make a profit, but in order to solve a problem afflicting the country." The first joint project involves selection of chicks. Today, male chicks that cannot become egg-producing chickens are destroyed at birth (they are inedible), which creates a real genetic and ethical problem, and adds to a farmer's expenses. Through a genetic change that is not really genetic engineering, the chicks' sexual differentiation system can be controlled, so that they all become females. Later, the same technological platform can facilitate genetic control before hatching, thereby protecting them against disease and saving on antibiotics, which benefits the chicks, agriculture, and the general public.
"Globes": Does it also work on people?
Salman: "We have less understanding of sexual differentiation in human beings."
Since an egg is also protein, the chicks project is linked to one of the overall missions that the fund has set for itself - bringing projects to market that will save 30% of the world's protein consumption.
"Food is the world's biggest industry," Salman says in explaining this ambitious goal. "80% of the global food market is managed by only 500 concerns, and 80% of these are actually managed b 40 or 50 concerns. A change in the cost structure and price environment of these 40-50 companies will affect the entire world: the environment, food security, and even the global distribution of wealth."
One product on which the fund is working in cooperation with the Volcani Institute and the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institute involves fish nutrition. There are two problems with fish: they eat other fish (thereby wasting protein), and they secrete pollutants. Through genetic improvement of a fish's metabolism, more fish and less secretion are produced for each gram that the fish eats. This product also has possible applications for people. It can be used to help people suffering from malnutrition. Reversing the technology is likely to provide a basis for anti-obesity drugs.
How do you transfer the invention from one sphere to another?
"NRS employs a group of scientists with backgrounds in these fields, and they are involved as soon as an investment is being considered. We believe that an invention in agriculture or medicine is not just a gimmick; it is a discovery of a feature in nature, and the fundamental features tend to be reproduced in other places."
In the coming weeks, the fund is slated to close another investment, this time in technology designed to boost the efficiency of a cow's digestion by intervening in its microbiome. "Metabolically, cows are very inefficient," Salman says. "Fattening a cow is an expensive process that requires land, water, and antibiotics. Cows also emit methane, which causes global warming, and they transmit diseases to human beings. This product, which was developed at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, is being commercialized by the university's commercialization company."
In addition to the four ventures in Israel in which NRS is investing and the upcoming investment, the fund is planning to bring to Israel the development center of Mir Diagnostics, its main US company, which is developing a test for cancer cells in urine.
"We are hoping that the development center will employ 10-15 people in Israel," Salman says. "Diagnosis is actually signals processing - a separation of a signal from noise. Israel has the world's biggest experts in signals processing." The product has already been tested on 3,000 people, and expectations are that it will reach the US market within two years.
NRS Health and Wellness
Activity: Investment and initiation of companies in health, agriculture, and the environment
Founder and CEO: Sam Salman
Managing partner in Israel: Eli Mor
Managed capital: tens of millions of dollars
Leading investments: cancer diagnosis company Mir Diagnostics
Leading projects in Israel: gender selection of chicks, improving metabolism of fish and fruit, and medical cannabis
Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - www.globes-online.com - on February 26, 2018
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