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Roche to lead Israel stem cell consortium

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Sunday, April 24th, 2011

As reported in Globes.co.ilThe consortium is based on research by Prof. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor of the Technion and Prof. Nissim Benvenisty of the Hebrew University.

Sources inform ”Globes” that Roche Holding AG (SWX: ROG) is leading the establishment of a stem cell consortium based on intellectual property rights of Israeli universities. The consortium is based on research by Prof. Joseph Itskovitz-Eldor of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and Prof. Nissim Benvenisty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The consortium may add other operations at Tel Aviv University.

Roche and the Pontifax Fund will finance the consortium with several million dollars over the next few years. The two companies are partners, together with the Office of the Chief Scientist, in seed investments in Van Leer Ventures Jerusalem Ltd. portfolio companies. Roche also has a cooperation agreement with Yissum Technology Transfer Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Although Israel is considered a world leader in stem cell research at universities and in commercial development, top stem cell researchers have not been involved in commercial ventures, with the exception of Hadasit Bio Holdings Ltd. (TASE:HDST) portfolio company CellCure Neurosciences Ltd., whose CSO, Prof. Benjamin Reubinoff is affiliated with Hadassah Medical Organization.

Itskovitz-Eldor and Benvenisty are world-class researchers in stem cells. They co-founded Van Leer Ventures portfolio company SCT – Stem Cell Technologies Ltd, which will apparently be the foundation for the consortium. SCT CEO Dr. Naomi Zak has degrees from Harvard and the Weizmann Institute of Science, and worked at the Hebrew University Hadassah University Hospital.

According to the Israel Venture Capital Association, SCT is engaged in the development of protocols to encourage the differentiation of stem cells into insulin excreting pancreas cells to treat diabetes. The company is also developing universal stem cells to treat liver failure by solving the problem of organ rejection.