Chiasma has engineered a way to deliver drugs via a pill that previously were only available through direct injection into the bloodstream. I don’t know the science behind it, but it seems like although we have been popping pills for some time already, we were only swallowing certain compositions of vitamins/nutrients/herbs/drugs/etc. that went from the stomach through the digestive tract and into the bloodstream. However, some sophisticated liquid concoctions needed to be delivered directly into the bloodstream and therefore required physical injection with a (not so much fun) needle. Chiasma was able to transform these liquids into a pill which could achieve the same results.
The Chairman and CEO, Fredric Price visited our class in New York on November 15, 2011 and spoke about the nature of starting a hi-tech pharmaceutical business, and specifically, about how it applies in Israel. He wasn’t able to attend our visit but he had a representative from Chiasma along with 4 entrepreneurs talk to us about a range of topics.
- Dr. Dalia Megiddo, Managing Partner, Expedio Ventures
- Galit Zuckerman, Founder and CEO, Medasense
- Steven Eitan, CEO, Exalenz
- Dana Gelbaum, VP Commercial Planning, Chiasma
- Dr. Daniel David, Founder, Commwell Medical
Dr. Megiddo is a venture capitalist and gave us a glimpse into the connection between entrepreneurs and VCs. She also spoke about the high level of Israeli innovation in the medical fields:
- Elscint Ltd. developed the MX-8000 CT Scanner which drastically improved CT scanning technology. This part of the company was sold to Philips Medical Systems.
- Elscint Ltd. also developed the Hawkeye SPECT scanner. This part of the company was sold to GE Healthcare.
- Medinol developed the Nir stent
- Serono developed Rebif for Multiple Sclerosis therapy
- Teva developed Copaxone to treat Multiple Sclerosis
- and Given Imaging developed the PillCam which Dr. Yaron had discussed with us at Itamar
She called on Mr. Eitan to describe how Israel was able to foster such an innovative environment and win the highest per capita number of Nobel prizes in life sciences, a full 3x as high as the country in second place (New Zealand). He talked about the Israeli culture and about the role the army plays in making young men and women grow up fast by forcing them to make critical decisions in an unknown environment. He also pointed out that the government recognizes this phenomena and tries to encourage its army veterans to join the workforce as innovators.
Ms. Zuckerman is the founder of Medasense, a company which measures pain using a finger probe. She spoke about the challenges of a new start-up trying to raise money. The conundrum is that investors want to see a prototype before giving any money, yet you need the money in order to reach the prototype stage. She detailed an “agile business development graph” which contains 5 stages in the growth of a start-up company. The key is to hold onto an ambitious goal of climbing 2 steps, while realistically attempting one step, and being prepared to fall back one step if necessary.
Mr. Eitan is the CEO of Exalenz (“breathtaking solutions”) whose mission is to become a leading provider of non-invasive tests for diagnosis and evaluation of GI (gastrointestinal) and liver disorders. He spoke about H. pylori, a bacterium found in the stomachs of people with various diseases, and about how Exalenz is marketing its BreathID breath test (which can detect H. pylori) outside of Israel.
Ms. Gelbaum spoke about Chiasma, their innovative oral delivery platform (pill), and about the challenge they faced when trying to decide how to commercialize their idea. Should they sell the company with its patent to “big pharma” and allow an established multi-national company to commercialize it (as many Israeli start-ups do), or should they pioneer the way for Israeli companies to develop and market their own drugs? She then described to us how Chiasma started developing it themselves in order to place itself in a more strategic position. They can either continue the development if they are able to handle it, or they can sell to “big pharma” but at a higher price than they could have commanded a few years ago because they have proven themselves serious about being able to develop it themselves.
Dr. David spoke about “the miraculous transmutation” of the Israeli hi-tech scene, and about “the inventor as a tormented entrepreneur”. This garnered the first of many laughs from our group which had just (happily) endured almost 2 hours of a barrage of information. He described how an inventor comes up with a brilliant idea and wants to market it when he is suddenly assaulted by the need to be fluent in a plethora of topics outside of his specialty: Business plans, funding, spending, management, location, personnel, accounting, lawyers, patents, regulations, contracts, technology, R&D, production, marketing and sales.
He talked about the issues which his company addresses:
- Most of the medical technology is located in hospitals but people spend most of their time outside of hospitals.
- Hospitals are prohibitively expensive.
- Hospitals are more dangerous than a home environment. 10% of deaths in hospitals are caused by problems picked up by a patient when entering the hospital for a different reason.
So Commwell Medical developed a home medical system: the Health-E-Chair. (Click here for a video that describes the Health-E-Chair) They also developed the PhysioGlove which can perform an ECG by simply holding the glove against the patient’s chest. (Click here for a video describing the PhysioGlove)
The panel was amazing and we heard a wealth of information running the entire gamut of the start-up community. But perhaps the most important thing I learned from our visit to Chiasma had nothing to do with the panel, but had to do with the human factor that went into forming it. Professor Bachenheimer was clearly overwhelmed with appreciation to Mr. Price for the amount of effort Mr. Price put into forming the panel and ensuring that we would be able to gain something from it. On several occasions throughout our trip to Israel the professor described parts of his interactions with Mr. Price and was clearly amazed by the CEO’s patience and commitment to ensuring that a group of college students that he doesn’t even know should have a meaningful experience. Mr. Price has more important things to attend to, yet he took care of us anyway.
As far as we have come along the technological revolution, the most prized and enduring qualities are the human ones.
Chiasma’s team of rats that test the products (courtesy of Julie)