Centre of Excellence for Research on Environment, Health and Aging


Newsletter No. 2 August 2013

18 August, 2013

A Newsletter of the

Centre of Excellence for Research on

Environment, Health and Aging 


Issue 2 - August 2013


Mr Avishai Levy is the new CEO of MIGAL

Mr Avishai Levy is the new CEO of MIGAL Galilee Research Institute.  He is replacing the former CEO, Mr Zvika Rubinstein, who passed away unexpectedly on April 2013.

Avishai is an experienced manager and a business development professional specializing in managing technology companies and deal making.  Before coming to MIGAL, Avishai was the CEO and President of Proteologics Inc., a biopharmaceutical company exploiting the UBIQUITIN system for the discovery and development of novel therapeutics.  Apart from his experience in overall management of technology-based companies and in deal making, Avishais' professional experience also includes scouting and valuations of new technologies as well as developing and managing patent portfolios and managing business transactions.  Mr Levy holds M.Sc. and LL.B degrees from Tel Aviv University and a BSc. in Agriculture from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is a member of the Israeli bar specializing in commercial law.


Efforts for recruitment of new researchers

Recruitment of new researchers is a major part of CEREHA's work plan.  The following efforts were carried out during the first year.

  • March 13, 2013 - Dr Orna Harel and Professor Eliora Ron interviewed Dr Barak Rotblat, a candidate for joining MIGAL who currently works at the MRC Toxicology unit. Dr Rotblat replied to an ad originally published in Nature.
  • May 19-24, 2013 - Professor Snait Tamir and Professor Eliora Ron conducted interviews in California and Massachusetts of academic candidates interested in joining MIGAL. Sixteen candidates were interviewed in Berkley and twenty one in Boston. Several candidates were found potentially suitable for joining MIGAL. Four of them already visited MIGAL and gave seminars and six are committed to visiting this summer or before the beginning of next year. We are currently negotiating with four candidates for relocation from the US to MIGAL.


New researchers recruited to the CEREHA Centre

MIGAL is excited to welcome four new researchers who have been recently recruited to MIGAL as part of the CEREHA project.  Dr Itamar Yadid is a biochemist working to understand the evolution of metabolic pathways for synthesis of unusual molecules in bacteria, their therapeutic potential, and their role in environmental adaptations.

Dr Shirra Freeman is an expert in bioeconomic modelling and economic valuation of ecosystem changes. Her work focuses on Environmental effects on Public and Community Health from an economic perspective.  She is part of a research group that recently submitted a grant application entitled "Cost Benefit Analysis of social and nutritional interventions among a group of rural old people".

Dr Yory Leshem, came to MIGAL after completing a postdoctoral training at the University of California, Davis. During his PhD he studied how cells cope with oxidative stress induced by extreme environmental conditions, factors which also enhance senescence and aging.

Dr Ari Meirson is a molecular and cell-biologist working on the link between obesity, diabetes and cancer. Ari recently received the prestigious GESHER Award for Academic Excellence in the Field of Cancer Research from the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), which is intended to support young and promising investigators after their period of postdoctoral training.


Strategic Plan: Renovating MIGAL's Laboratory space

The Recruitment of new researchers via the CEREHA programme and the expected growth in research activities all require additional space that is not available at the existing MIGAL location. To that end, MIGAL has rented a large building situated at the Tel-Hai Industrial Park and began renovations that are designed to accommodate modern laboratories and an animal house. Work is currently underway with a projected finish date of October 2013. 

Today's scientific research requires modern facilities with properly sized floor plates, adequate floor-to-floor heights, and energy-efficient building systems and building envelopes.  The new facilities create large, flexible and adaptable systems that can easily accommodate growth and changing paradigms.  The new building will provide around 1,500 m2 of world-class workspace in which cutting edge research will be performed.  The designed space is divided between 10 laboratories working in diverse areas of research, including Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Structural Biology, computational Chemistry and Environmental Sciences.  An animal-house will be located on the lower floor. Altogether, the building will accommodate around 100 people, including group leaders, students and support staff.

The space has been designed to encourage interaction and collaboration and deliver the right environment in which innovative research, translation and collaboration can flourish.

The new space before the beginning of the renovation work:




The First CEREHA IP Workshop: An Expert Perspective on Intellectual Property, Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer

The First CEREHA IP workshop will be led by top European experts in biotech patent laws from Vossius & Partners in Germany joined by European Patent Office (EPO) representatives.  This special two-day event will focus on current issues related to patenting and commercialisation of IP.  The speakers will share their experience and knowledge to help participants understand the potential implications of global patent reforms, avoid pitfalls and maximize the value of their IP.

The workshop is intended for scientists, research authority representatives, Technology Transfer Officers, investors and professionals in the technology transfer and technology commercialisation fields.

The workshop programme will cover:

  • Patent Filing and Prosecuting.
  • Enforcing Patents
  • Patent Granting Processes.
  • IP Litigation
  • IP Valuation
  • IP Transfer and M&A


A Workshop on Healthy Aging is to be held on 1-2 December 2013

The workshop on Healthy aging is organized by Professor Nir Beker, Professor Shira Hantman and Dr Shirra Freeman from MIGAL, in collaboration with Professor Ariela Lowenstein from the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College, as part of the CEREHA workshops on aging.

The objective of the workshop is to produce three interdisciplinary research proposals that eventually will be submitted to external agencies for funding. Guest lecturers and participants will include researchers from Israel, Germany and Holland who specialize in economics, public health & medicine and social science.  In addition to researchers, we will be inviting representatives from relevant governmental agencies, organisations dealing with third age issues, funding agencies and others involved in setting and funding research agendas.  This unique blend will facilitate a vibrant atmosphere in which future collaborations, based on real needs, can thrive and result in meaningful outcomes to the elderly population.


The 4th Bio-medicine Conference on Health Issues Related to Aging

For the past three years MIGAL has been hosting the Galilee Biomedical Conference, a joint initiative of MIGAL, the Galilee Hospitals, the newly established Bar-Ilan School of Medicine in Safed and regional colleges.  This year the conference will focus on health issues related to aging.  Main topics of the conference include:

  • Oncology
  • Age-related metabolic diseases
  • Age-related degenerative diseases
  • Diseases of the elderly


The Galilee Biomedical Research Administration (GBRA)

The establishment of the Centre of Excellence for Research on Environment, Health and Aging (CEREHA), is the driving force behind several new and exciting initiatives that are intended to benefit the local aging community.  One of these initiatives is the new Galilee Biomedical Research Administration (GBRA), a joint venture of MIGAL and the "Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee", came into being and began operating on February of 2013.  The GBRA is intended to act as an “umbrella” organization for biomedical research in medical and research centres in the Galilee.  It will directly fund medical research grants for these entities via an annual call for research grant proposals.  The GBRA will sponsor collaborative symposia and workshops to support grant applications and enhance collaboration between physicians and scientists. In the first round, 150 pre-proposals were submitted on various topics, including on age-related health issues.  25 of these pre-proposals were submitted by researchers from MIGAL, reflecting the extensive collaborations between MIGAL and the medical centres in the region.  We expect the outcomes of the first round to be announced soon.  Thus, the GBRA is expected to significantly impact the economy of, and quality of life in the Galilee. Its activities will generate new, high quality, employment opportunities, improve health care and services (which are currently significantly inferior to those of the centre of the country) and help position the Galilee as a viable, dynamic centre for medical research.


Secondments with colleagues from the associated universities and industries

  • December 13, 2012 - Professor Eliora Ron, MIGAL's Scientific Director met with Dr Laura Serino of Novartis in Paris to discuss the details and conditions of a research agreement between Novartis and MIGAL. A joint project, involving putting up an experimental facility in which chickens will be used as an animal model for several microbial diseases, is set to begin in late 2013.
  • March 14-17, 2013 - As part of CEREHA project, Dr Jamal Mahajna from the cancer drug discovery programme at MIGAL, visited Dr Dörte Becher, head of the mass spectrometry group at the Institute of Microbiology in Greifswald University.  Dr Mahajna studies Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), a rare cancer of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow.  CML occurs mainly in adults and becomes more common with increasing age with the average age at diagnosis being 64.  The purpose of the visit was to initiate scientific collaboration aiming at proteomic profiling of the Snail and Twist1 over-expressing Ph+ leukemic cells to identify markers of drug resistance and disease progression in CML blast crisis phase.
  • April 19, 2013 - Professor Eliora Ron met Professor Tone Tonjum from Oslo University in Paris and discussed future EAM activities and planned visits of researchers from MIGAL to Norway. This meeting was aimed at initiating new secondments.
  • June 7, 2013 - Professor Eliora Ron visited Novartis Vaccines Institute for Global Health (NVGH) in Siena, Italy and an MTA was signed between Novartis and MIGAL. This MTA followed the previous meeting of Ron and Serino that dealt with the animal facilities for testing microbial infections and vaccines.
  • June 21, 2013 - Visit to the Centre for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen.Professor Shira Hantman and Professor Nir Becker visited the Centre for Healthy Aging at the University of Copenhagen, as part of our initiative to establish academic connections with partners of the CEREHA consortium.They met with Professor Allan Krasnick who is a health researcher in the field of access to health care, health care reforms, disease patterns among migrants, Professor Astrid Pernille Jespersen, who is an ethnology humanistic health researcher and Professor Susan Reynolds Whyte. Professor Hantman and Professor Becker presented to their hosts two of their current research projects; the first relates to a cost benefit analysis of social and nutritional interventions. The second project relates to creating a working model of entrepreneurship for the third age.The colleagues from the University of Copenhagen specified a particular interest in the entrepreneurship project in light of their upcoming project of promoting healthy aging in a number of community centres in Denmark.Finally, the guests invited their hosts to participate in an international workshop on Healthy Aging to be held in Israel on 1-2 December 2013 as part of the CEREHA programme.
  • June 27, 2013 - Professor Eliora Ron met Professor Tone Tonjum in Germany and discussed current activities of MIGAL and CEREHA and the possibility to organize a workshop on infectious diseases and the aging population.
  • June 28, 2013 - Professor Eliora Ron met with Professor Joerg Hacker, the President of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and member of the Scientific Advisory Board. Discussion of the role of the SAC and upcoming meeting ensued.
  • July 18, 2013 - Secondment of Professor Uri Marchaim to Oslo.During his trip to Norway, Professor Uri Marchaim met with Professor Tone Tonjum from the Centre for Molecular Biology and Neuroscience (CMBN) at the University of Oslo.  The visit followed Professor Tonjums' presentation at the CEREHA Kick-Off event in November 2012.Professor Tonjum and Professor Marchaim discussed possible collaborations between MIGAL's researchers and researchers from the University of Oslo.  Professor Tonjum expressed her interest in developing joint proposals and submitting them to international funds and to Horizon 2020.  Uri promised to send the draft of the new Horizon 2020 Health Call, as well as to facilitate scientific contacts with Professor Racheli Amir, concerning anti-oxidation materials, and Professor Gidi Gross concerning Alzheimer disease.The possibility to organize a training workshop in Oslo for researchers from MIGAL, was discussed, and in particular the subject of financing such a workshop. Since MIGAL cannot transfer funds to Norway, it was decided to jointly look for funds for such a workshop.Professor Tonjum raised an idea for a potential collaboration with a colleague of hers, who has contacts in Lebanon, Syria and in many other Mediterranean countries, concerning water treatments.
  • July 8 – 25, 2013 -Professor Jacob Pitcovski visit to Novartis The significantly longer life span of human, and the fact that there are diseases that are more typical for older people, must be taken in consideration while planning the health programme for the third age. The development of preventive vaccines to those disease causing agents may provide an attractive therapy. Recently, as part of the CEREHA programme, I visited Novartis Vaccines Institute for Global Health (NVGH) in Siena, Italy, to exchange ideas and discuss possible future collaborations. Novartis Vaccines is the world’s fifth largest manufacturer of vaccines and a leader inproviding products to fight more than 20 vaccine-preventable viral and bacterial diseases. During my visit I met with scientists and visited laboratories that are involved in different stages of vaccine development - starting with the idea that initiates the research, followed by production and purification of the vaccine molecule, the setting of in vitro tests, all the way to the development of a reliable model to test the efficacy of the vaccine in vivo. Particularly interesting was the visit to the technical development (TD) department where the research knowledge is scaled-up and translated into a process that will enable the production of a commercial vaccine. No doubt that the stay at Novartis and the meetings with team leaders will have an important contribution to the work being performed in my laboratory at MIGAL.  Moreover, it opened a window to the vaccine industry and enabled us to understand some of the industrial considerations and limitations in vaccine research and development as well as production.


The recent Hamsa Ceremony held jointly by the EU and ISERD

Over the years the 'Hamsa' ceremony, recognizing the achievements of Israeli researchers who were awarded grants under the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), has become a tradition.  At the recent event, which was held at the Residence of the Head of the EU Delegation Mr Andrew Standley, the Ambassador made a special mention of the large EU grant received by MIGAL.

Held jointly with the Israel-Europe R&D Directorate (ISERD), the event was also attended by, among others, the Minister of Science, the Minister of Industry and Trade and the Ministry's Chief Scientist as well as by ISERD's General Manager Mr Marcel Shaton, whose efforts to include the Galilee in the REGPOT programme of the FP7, were instrumental to securing the EU grant.