The Yeda Research & Development Company, last year received a record $12m. in royalties and research grants from industry, a clear indication of its increasingly successful efforts to commercialize Weizmann Institute research. A significant part of this sum, in turn, was used to finance further research at the Institute.
Commenting on this phenomenon at a recent Weizmann Institute Executive Council discussion on the subject, Prof. David Mirelman, Chairman of Yeda, said that while the Institute doesn't have a specific department devoted to applied science, it has "found mechanisms to stimulate projects with applicable potential".
Among scientists who have linked up with industry is Prof. Michal Schwartz of the Neurobiology Department, now working on a project which will, if successful, permit the regeneration of severed nerves. Though her research is still in the laboratory stage, a large European pharmaceutical firm has agreed to finance it in return for the right to exploit her findings, if they prove applicable.
Prof. Irun Cohen, in turn, is working with a start-up biotechnology company that was specially created to exploit his research results. If all goes well, the products of the new firm -- established by Yeda and an American venture capital company -- should contribute to the diagnosis and cure of juvenile diabetes as well as facilitate the treatment of other autoimmune diseases.
"Having the means to really get to the bottom of research is a very precious commodity and if the only way we can get it is through partnership with business, then we will have to learn to live with that situation," Cohen declared.
Prof. Shimon Ullman, of the Dept. of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, has yet a different link with industry: he provides a scientific input to Orbotech, a company that produces equipment for inspecting printed circuit boards, which are a key feature of almost all electronic equipment. Orbotech -- a firm recently formed by the merger of two Israeli companies, Orbot and Optrotech - -accounts for some 80% of the inspection machines produced in the world.
Ullman believes that while scientists provide ideas for new products, their successful commercialization depends primarily on the engineering and marketing arms of a firm.
Institute President Prof. Haim Harari summarized the discussion by stating that "applied science is now an integral part of the activities of the Weizmann Institute."
Prof. Cohen holds the Helen and Morris Mauerberger Chair in Immunology; Prof. Mirelman, the Besen-Brender Chair of Microbiology and Parasitology; Prof. Schwartz, the Maurice and Ilse Katz Chair in Neuroimmunology; and Prof. Ullman, the Ruth and Samy Cohn Chair in Computer Sciences.