Israeli medical innovators are thumbing their noses at the Angel of Death and changing the way we live.
According to sources within the start-up “ecosystem,” there are at least 6,000 active start-up companies operating in Israel. Within the realm of digital health, the number of active start-up companies engaged in this field has grown from 65 companies in 2005 to over 400 in 2018. A significant number of these start-ups are being financially supported by prestigious global corporations such as Philips, GE Healthcare, Merck, and IBM.
“Israel serves as a global incubator of innovative ideas for a variety of reasons,” said Dr. Eyal Zimlichman, deputy director general, chief medical officer, and chief innovation officer at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel. “First of all, it’s in our genes. Secondly, there is the military aspect, where we are taught to improvise when necessary in the field. These things allow us to be naturally innovative. This has trickled down into the medical field, where we are offering the highest level of medical care.”
Sheba Medical Center is the largest facility of its kind in the Jewish State and the Middle East. Prime examples of the institution’s innovative efforts include combatting cancer with immunotherapy, targeting hemophilia with a novel gene-therapy drug, and creating a cutting-edge app for a wearable used by people with serious heart issues or diabetes.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to invade and destroy cancer. Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR-T) and Tumor Infiltrating Lymphocytes (TIL) cancer immunotherapies are not universal cancer cures at this stage; ongoing clinical trials are being conducted for major pharmaceutical companies and America’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) at Sheba Medical Center’s oncology unit. There, end-stage cancer patients are being treated with CAR-T, which specifically targets leukemia and lymphoma, and TIL, which zeroes in on melanoma and ovarian cancer patients. These trials have injected new hope into dozens of patients, who, at one time, were only weeks or months away from certain death.
Seventeen people with cancer were treated at Sheba during an initial CAR-T trial, after all of these patients had displayed zero improvement in the wake of traditional chemotherapy treatments and bone marrow transplants. Of those 17, 75 percent had a complete response to the CAR-T treatment. One of those CAR-T patients, an eight-year-old girl from Bnei Brak, was the first child to achieve complete remission from childhood leukemia.
A few weeks ago, a one-year-old boy suffering from severe Hemophilia A coupled with an unusual allergy became the youngest patient in the world to be treated at Sheba Medical Center with a novel gene therapy drug that was only recently approved for use in the U.S. The new drug, developed by an American biopharmaceutical company, contained a “bispecific antibody” that was injected into the child. According to clinical trial results published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the new drug has shown a 90 percent reduction in bleeding in children and a 70 percent reduction in adults.
Finally, Professor Robert Klempfner is blazing a trail of what he has dubbed the Internet of Medical Things (IoMT), where heart patients are able to engage in cardiac care and rehabilitation using uniquely designed wearables (i.e., a hi-tech watch), from short or long distances, without having to return to the hospital for treatment.
“Today, the challenge for both heart doctors and cardiac care patients is what happens after a coronary event (heart attack), intervention, or heart surgery,” explained Klempfner. “What kind of regimen can be created for someone who might have had surgery at Sheba but lives and works in faraway places such as the U.S.A. or other countries? Within the new world of tele-medicine and digital health, we have the technology to create rehab programs that are a win/win experience for both the hospital and the patient.”
Patients receive a watch equipped with an app developed by the Sheba medical team and Datos Health, an Israeli start-up company. The app contains a care path specially designed for each patient, containing rehab regimens, education material, and secure communication with our patients. The medical center receives data from wherever a patient is located as they walk, exercise, and engage in other physical activities. Sheba technicians then analyze the info rmation and provide on-going feedback, assisted by smart algorithms provided by the innovative system. The program is also primed for patients who also suffer from hypertension and diabetes.
“This not only saves the patient time by not having him/her return to the hospital, it saves the hospital time and bed space, so we are able to treat more patients,” said Klempfner. “This ushers in a new era in digital healthcare.”
By Steve K. Walz