May. 05, 2022

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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and Soroka Medical Center have announced a strategic collaboration for the development of novel technologies in the field of Bio-Convergence (a field that combines biology with computational technologies and engineering). The selected projects under the collaboration will be funded by the British philanthropic fund Rosetrees Trust

BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of BGU, will accompany the projects from their inception in various commercialization aspects including intellectual property protection and business development activities. The collaboration is announced ahead of Biomed Israel 2022, the premier international Life Science and HealthTech conference in Israel, on May 10-12, 2022, at the David InterContinental Hotel in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

One of the first projects to be chosen is led by Prof. Lital Alfonta from the Department of Life Sciences at BGU and Dr. Orna Staretz-Chacham, the Metabolic Clinic, Pediatric Division, Soroka University Medical Center. The project aims at developing a non-invasive home test for immediate monitoring of the orphan condition Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD). MSUD is a serious genetic condition caused by a deficiency of the enzyme Keto-acid-dehydrogenase. Blood tests show high levels of three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine), that can lead to life-threatening cerebral oedema and dysmyelination in affected individuals. The disease is more common in Ashkenazi Jews, and in the Bedouin population in the South region of Israel. Children with MSUD must remain on a special diet that restricts the consumption of those three amino acids. Currently, the amino acid levels of children with MSUD are monitored weekly at the hospital, and the results arrive only after several days. Prof. Alfonta is developing a technology based on bioelectrochemistry, which combines optimization of protein function with synthetic biology tools in order to create accurate and specific sensors for immediate monitoring of the relevant amino acids. This will enable real-time diet recommendations and forgo the need for a weekly hospital visit. In addition, neonates are routinely scanned for amino acid levels, and the novel technology can supply immediate results. Immediate monitoring of amino acids is especially crucial in the developmental phase of people ( i.e. children and neonates) 

Prof. Raz Jelinek, Vice President and Dean for Research and Development of BGU, said, "The collaboration between Prof. Alfonta and Dr. Staretz-Chacham is an excellent example of breakthroughs in the field of Bio-Convergence that can be achieved by joining forces between a leading university and a prominent medical center. BGU stands out in the Israeli academic landscape with its unique integration of engineering and biopharma. It is only natural that we will combine our engineering strengths with the medical school and with its adjacent leading medical center, Soroka. The synergy of strengths and talents can help develop groundbreaking solutions in the field of Bio-Convergence, which aims to address the significant challenges of the global health system and biopharma industry." 

The collaboration between the two institutions aligns with the vision of the Israel Innovation Authority, and combines the excellence of BGU researchers in the various engineering fields, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data as well as in life sciences, with the world-class knowledge and experience of Soroka physicians. A joint team from both institutes mapped the daily medical needs of Soroka on the one hand, and the current challenges of the pharma and HealthTech industries on the other. In response to these needs and challenges, the collaboration tailors applied, Bio-Convergence projects with large potential for future commercialization. These projects combine engineers, biology, and medicine research teams from BGU with Soroka clinicians. 

Prof. Victor Novack, Head of the Research and Development Authority at Soroka University and Head of Internal Medicine H Department, said, "Our guiding principle at Soroka is developing solutions for caretakers and patients with the aim of addressing arising needs. We invite researchers to visit and experience firsthand the medical diagnosis and treatment procedures. There is a real necessity to define together what should be improved, in a safe and efficient manner, under the paradigm of evidence-based medicine, and via extensive data collection and analysis in a manner that will lead to a real change in the diagnosis and treatment of various medical conditions.  As the only medical center in this region, which cares for approximately a million inhabitants, we have a responsibility to provide leading medical care. Medical leadership in the 21st century includes also an innovative technological interface. The technology, science, large databases, and multidisciplinary research at Soroka and at BGU, all these comprise the platform for a healthier future for all." 

Josh Peleg, CEO of BGN Technologies, said, "In addition to the synergy between disciplines and strengths of the two institutions leading to innovation in the field of Bio-Convergence, this unique collaboration also emphasizes applicable technologies. The first step is mapping the needs of current medicine, both in hospitals and the biopharma industry, after which we turn to the researchers in order to find a solution to the problem. The involvement of BGN Technologies from the initial stages of project selection will enable to maximize the commercial feasibility of the funded inventions. In addition, we will accompany each project in terms of business development and intellectual property protection. Our role is to bridge the existing gap between academia and industry." 

Bio-convergence is a multi-disciplinary combination of biology, engineering, electronics, artificial intelligence, computational biology, physics, nanotechnology, materials science, and genetic engineering. The synergy between biology and engineering is considered today as the forefront of medical science and development. The Israeli Innovation Authority champions propelling bio-convergence with grants that will enable the growth of this field in Israel and the establishment of a competitive industry with a high economic value and international significance.