From Bionic Legs to Video Games for Physical Therapy: What Makes Israel’s Medical Device Sector Click?

The global medical device industry is revolutionizing the way we care for and heal ourselves: from bionic eyes to robotic limbs to smartphone apps that measure our vital signs to helmets that can cure our heads with electro-magnetic pulses, medical devices promise to keep us healthier for longer and treat us better when we take ill.

Israel has gained international prominence as a “Startup Nation” for its hi-tech prowess, enjoying the largest number of startups, the largest amount of R&D spending and the number one rate of VC investment per capita in the world.

But the Startup Nation doesn’t stop at splashy exits and cool apps. The entrepreneurial creativity and technical know-how has also made Israel a global leader in the life sciences industry – with medical devices its largest sector. There are hundreds of medical device companies in Israel which constitute around 60% of the entire life sciences industry. In fact, this tiny country is ranked first in the world for medical device patents per capita.

You can get an up close and personal look at much of this innovation at MEDICA 2014 in Dusseldorf later this month, where 46 Israeli companies with groundbreaking medical devices from fields ranging from therapeutics to monitoring, robotics, diagnostics, imaging, telemedicine and beyond will be exhibiting.

Take, for example, IceSense, a medical marvel which can destroy breast tumors the size of golf balls by freezing them into balls of ice. BioGaming is a video game consul that also acts as a personal physical therapist. BioGaming’s advanced sensing and analysis tools enable exercising at home or in the clinic while being monitored and supervised. Cnoga is empowering people to self-administer blood tests using standard color cameras instead of needles, allowing you to email the results to your doctor.

ReWalk, developed by Argo Medical Technologies, is a wearable support exoskeleton that mimics the gait of functioning legs for people with disabilities or paraplegia – allowing paralyzed people to walk again. ReWalk received FDA approval in June, 2014, followed by Argo’s top performing IPO of 2014 this September. Claire Lomas’ remarkable finish of the London Marathon wearing the ReWalk robotic suit was an inspiration the world over.

Given Imaging is a good example of Israel’s strong imaging sub-sector in the medical device arena. Acquired by Irish medical device maker Covidien for $860 million earlier this year, Given Imaging is renowned for its camera-in-a-pill technology called, naturally, Pillcam. Pillcam is a capsule with two tiny video cameras that enables visualization of patients’ intestines for diagnosis of gastrointestinal diseases without the need for invasive surgery. Given Imaging’s founder is a former army engineer who combined missile guiding technology with medical know-how to create this non-invasive, disposable camera.

What accounts for Israel’s success in the field? It’s not just the transformation of military technology for civilian uses. The medical device industry is essentially an inter-disciplinary sector combining medicine with technology and as such, Israel benefits from the fact that there is a high level of expertise in many different areas, including electronics, medicine, imaging and software.

Add this to the existing “secret sauce” that makes Israel a startup powerhouse – a cultural acceptance of risk and failure and the famed “never-take-no-for-an-answer” chutzpah factor. There’s also our innovative public-private partnerships which strongly bolster our life sciences sector. Such government involvement in pre-seed and seed stages of life science start-ups is most significant, as venture capital funds and other investors usually find it too risky to invest at such an early stage.

Come by the Israeli pavilion to learn more about possibilities for cooperation, investment and partnership. Hope to see you there!


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