How do you say “Consortium” in Chinese?
The MAGNET program consortiums promote fruitful cooperation between commercial companies and applied research from the academic sector. The latest connection of the “Rimonim” consortium with the Chinese market has opened up new possibilities, which can promote the development of Israeli infrastructure technologies in the field of pharmaceuticals
Creating partnerships between commercial companies, some of which may compete with each other, is not a trivial matter. Still, Ilan Peled, Director of the MAGNET program (Generic Technology Research and Development), believes that this is one of the best ways to develop generic (infrastructural) technologies that will integrate applied research from the academic sector and transform it into a tool that will serve the Israeli manufacturing industry.
The Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) of the Ministry of Economy promotes international cooperation, and now, for the first time, there is a possibility of cooperation between a consortium and an array of Chinese companies. The Israeli consortium and the Chinese companies have received an in-principle approval from the manager of the China - Israel Industrial R&D Cooperation Framework to apply for support in accordance with the initial outline. A lot of complex work is expected until the submission of the complete application.
"We must set out detailed work plans and discuss the ownership of intellectual property and the business application of the R&D results, to the benefit of all partners. Nevertheless, despite the obstacles, we and our Chinese partners believe that it is possible to run a joint program and achieve technological success," explains Peled.
“China is a key player in the world and the Chinese market is huge. Cooperation between Israeli companies and Chinese companies will expose both to innovative technologies, and promote a variety of business agreements," says Avi Hasson, the Chief Scientist.
From Academic Research to an Innovative Product
The MAGNET program is aimed at building and strengthening technological infrastructure in Israeli industry," explains Peled. “In most cases a groundbreaking investment in infrastructure involves large sums and high risk, especially when you're at the forefront of technology and emerging technological difficulties cannot be solved with existing tools. We wish to help companies with this process. Moreover, in order to preserve Israel as a start-up nation and world leader in technological innovation, we need to find a way to integrate academic research in Israel and promote its use in the Israeli industry.”
One of the functions of the Chief Scientist is to help industrial companies overcome these difficulties. "We offer companies partnering opportunities at the stage of infrastructure and technological development, which eventually will yield new and advanced products and services for the industry," says Peled. “The cooperation is carried out through consortia tracks. In fact, a consortium is an organized association for the purpose of long-term development of generic technologies, conducted in collaboration between various companies and research institutions. It is a temporary organization with a life span of up to five years, during which each of the companies involved contributes its knowledge to the project, in order to create a technological infrastructure that none of the consortium members can develop by itself and without the help of others, and which will allow development of advanced products."
Can these be competing companies in some cases?
"Some of the companies participating in a consortium may have the potential to compete with one another. However, all of them understand that through this technological partnership each company will save resources, and get information and technological infrastructure that can serve it in the future development of innovative products. The concern about competition is mainly of small companies, who fear that the big companies will compete with them using the knowledge developed by the smaller companies. Though, in the end, this business works because everyone understands that every company is short of money, manpower and time, and if each one brings with it a relative advantage it has over others – it will benefit all of them. Sometimes the greatest contribution is to simply learn from mistakes of others, and not repeat them," says Peled.
How many consortiums are approved each year?
"We establish between 12 and 15 consortiums per year. The Chief Scientist and the MAGNET program define the conditions and give the tailwind. We decide what subjects we wish to promote from a number of proposals, as the main consideration is the impact of technological infrastructure on the industry. The size of the consortium is also affected by the size of the possible array of companies. The average number of companies in a consortium is seven to nine. Each consortium is a legal entity that, though made up of a number of companies, can also negotiate as a single body that will voluntarily disband at the end of the five-year period.”
Academic research groups that participate in the consortiums' activities play an important role in the development of infrastructure. “In most cases, academic research is far ahead of the industry," says Peled, “and its interaction and integration through various projects is a must in the fields of life sciences or chemistry. The academic sector also thinks it’s important to leverage its research to obtain industrial capabilities. This is why this connection is so great and everyone benefits from it.”
Infrastructure Development for a Variety of Pharmaceuticals
The consortium seeking to partner with Chinese companies is the “Rimonim” consortium, which deals with technologies that in the future will enable the development of RNAi-based therapeutics – a discovery that won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for 2006.
“The consortium started operating four years ago on the basis of research and discoveries in both the academic sector and the participating companies," says Dr. Talia Ben-Neria, MAGNET’s professional coordinator of the consortium. “The main barriers are the RNA molecule stability and the difficulties in transporting the molecules to a specific site of activity. The members of the 'Rimonim' consortium have been working openly and in full cooperation with one another since its establishment, and thanks to this joint activity, the consortium has already reached a number of significant and innovative technological achievements.”
As part of the cooperation process, the consortium seeks to carry out R&D with two entities: a leader in the field of RNAi technologies in China, and a research institute founded in 2008, focusing on the development of technologies in this field. The consortium members believe that the Chinese partners will be able to promote the development through their knowledge, and expand the testing of the technologies developed in the consortium.
From the Chinese perspective, what is the advantage in cooperation with the Israeli “Rimonim” consortium?
"The Chinese are exposed to new and advanced technologies here," says Peled, "which they can use to offer RNAi-based drugs in the future. The knowledge generated in the programs supported by the OCS must belong to Israeli society, but in the bi-national programs we allow a shared patent on common development.”
Setting Sights on Israel with the Help of International Companies
How can cooperation with an international company help promote Israeli industry?
"All the plans we make at MAGNET are directed, first of all, at Israel. We want to benefit the Israeli economy and the social fabric in the country. Beyond the direct contribution to the supported companies, there is also vibrant activity and expansion of the number of beneficiaries, such as sub-contractors and service providers of the supported companies. In addition, the Chief Scientist also makes great efforts to generate international cooperation. We do not believe that all the knowledge can be found in Israel, and therefore we establish partnerships with foreign countries. Furthermore, this cooperation often opens new markets for the industry, and it is very important to us in terms of knowledge,” notes Peled.
"International collaborations are based on framework agreements between the two countries. In the case of China, since it is a very large country, we have six agreements with a number of provinces and cities, as well as with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). Soon, two additional agreements will be confirmed. In these programs each side funds the local companies, but with the joint R&D program, in which each party has an important contribution to the research, each also enjoys the fruits of others.”
Does the cooperation remain in the field of infrastructures?
"For us, technological infrastructure is not about purchasing of equipment, but about a combination of pure technology, such as a process, a molecule, an algorithm or whatever is being developed, with the people who develop it here in Israel. We favor opportunities that strengthen this infrastructure with international cooperation. It’s not that simple, because we allow cooperation and encourage it, but without having to pay money to the foreign company, even though we wish it would bring its knowledge and benefits to the Israeli industry," says Peled.
Another possibility for binational cooperation through a MAGNET consortium is joining a leading international company as an observer. In this context, Peled recalls one example dealing with video transmission over copper cables at ECI. “The observing company was Deutsche Telekom and it brought the practical knowledge and proof of concept generated in its laboratories. Deutsche Telekom's following profit was that it could buy the systems of the Israeli telecommunications company ECI, that it developed by itself in Israel.”
Are there consortiums and partnerships that fail?
"Of course," clarifies Peled. "If all our actions are successful – then I failed, because that means that we didn’t take enough risk and went on the safe side. Credit must be given to the management of the 'Rimonim' consortium for constant monitoring of the activity of all its members, for constant evaluation of chances of technologies maturing in a timely manner, and for cessation of operations in situations of little progress in the display of technological feasibility. At the same time, the consortium is trying to test new ideas that were not presented at the beginning, while taking high risks. Failures are part of the process of checking various directions.”