Dr. Rachamim at NasVax's lab in Ness Ziona, Israel

Israeli scientists are developing a treatment for people suffering from liver disease.

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a  “silent” liver disease which affects two to five percent of Americans – approximately six to fifteen million people.  Another ten to twenty percent of Americans, thirteen to twenty three million people, have fat in their livers but have not yet developed NASH.  Tens of millions of people around the world also are at risk of suffering from NASH.

The US National Institutes of Health explains:  “It resembles alcoholic liver disease, but occurs in people who drink little or no alcohol.  The major feature in NASH is fat in the liver, along with inflammation and damage.  Most people with NASH feel well and are not aware that they have a liver problem.  Nevertheless, NASH can be severe and can lead to cirrhosis, in which the liver is permanently damaged and scarred and no longer able to work properly.”

Currently the only treatments for NASH are available in injection (hypodermic needle) form.  The problem with injections is that the treatments must first go through the bloodstream and then into the liver.

The Solution

NasVax, an Israeli company based in Ness-Ziona, is forging new ground in developing a treatment for people suffering from NASH.  The CEO of NasVax is Guy Yachin, a seasoned MBA graduate from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and the research and development is lead by Dr. Ronald Ellis, who holds a Ph.D. in Biology from Cornell University.  The team in Israel realized that an oral treatment would be much more effective because it can go directly to the intestinal system and into the liver and they developed a drink to suppress the disease.  The drink, an Oral anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody (aCD3 MAb) immunotherapy is currently directed toward the treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, and is in Phase 2A clinical studies on patients.  Research shows that the patients are doing better than patients who are taking traditional treatments.

Dr. Ellis estimates that the treatment will be available to the public in seven to eight years.  He cautions that there are many factors in a clinical studies, so an exact timeline cannot yet be set.  For example, the team is working on converting the drink into tablet (pill) form but this will require a lot of testing to reach the same effectiveness as the drink.  He also explains that drinks and tablets also have side benefits. “Traditional injection treatments for NASH often have negative side effects.  But we do not see these side-effects with our treatment.”  In addition, “Traditional injection treatments are not easy for patients.  People do not like going to a clinic once a week or once a month.  It is easier to take a pill from the pharmacy.”

Innovation Nation

Guy Yachin, NasVax's Chief Executive Officer

CEO Guy Yachin explains “NasVax has a history of taking research from universities and small companies.  We look for opportunities at early states.  Of our four major products, all began in biotech start-ups or universities.  There is a lot of innovation in Israel, and we can tap it.  Then we develop it for clinical trials and commercialization.”

Mr. Yachin explains how NesVax fills a gap between the early start–up and large corporations.  “We bring medical treatments into Phase 2 Clinical Trials.  Then we look for a partner who has the resources to put the treatments into the finals states of clinical trials.  These are usually large pharmaceutical or biotechnological corporations with deep resources.”

Dr. Ellis describes how he was drawn to immunology.  “I have been vaccines and immunotherapeutics for over thirty years.  What motivates me to continue?  I want to benefit humanity and prevent suffering.”

CEO Guy Yachin describes business innovation in Israel:  “My background is in engineering and business.  I was attracted to the medical devices field.  Eventually, I shifted my career to biotech.  I love the opportunity to do something good, and to develop something that is unique with a talented group of people.”

Yachin adds, “We are in the US and Israel.  Most of our research and development is in Israel.  We have been listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange since December 2005.”

Dr. Ellis describes what makes Israeli biotechnology companies unique. “Israeli companies are much more cost effective and move rapidly.  We use financial resource with more focus than American companies. Israeli biotechnology companies have limited resources compared to their counterparts in the US.  We do a lot more outsourcing, and spend most of our time managing other companies.  For example we know that other companies can do many functions better and at a lower cost than if we did everything on our own.  When we need to produce an antibody, run clinical trials, or sequence a DNA molecule, we find a firm that is an exert in that function.”

In December 2005 NasVax listed on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange under the Stock ticker: TASE: NSVX

Reported by Joseph Sherman for United with Israel.

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