The drug, Elelyso (taliglucerase alfa), soothes the symptoms in most patients of the rare lysosomal storage disorder Gaucher disease, which causes problems ranging from bone infections to anaemia. Scientists at the Israeli biotechnology companyProtalix Biotherapeutics developed a method to create the human enzyme that these patients lack in carrot cells, by inserting a gene that encodes the protein into the cells. Patients treated with the resulting enzyme (taliglucerase alfa) in clinical trials fared at least as well as those given another enzyme-replacement therapy on the market, Cerezyme.
“It’s wonderful to have another option available,” says Rhonda Buyers, executive director of the National Gaucher Foundation in Tucker, Georgia. She hopes that Elelyso will help to prevent drug shortages like those in 2009 and 2011, when patients relied on Cerezyme alone. “People whose symptoms had been controlled for years were having bone issues and terrible fatigue, some went the hospital,” she recollects.
Manufacturers of the two other Gaucher drugs — Genzyme in the US and Shire in Ireland — produce their therapeutic enzymes in mammalian cells. Structurally, Elelyso resembles Genzyme’s Cerezyme, but it’s cheaper to produce because of the high maintenance that animal-cell cultures require. Further, viruses and other pathogens that contaminate mammalian stocks don’t threaten plan-cell cultures.
For more than a decade, researchers have been able to genetically manipulate plants so that they produce human enzymes. In 2006, the US Department of Agriculture approved of a chicken vaccine produced in plant cells. But assuaging concerns about plant-derived biologics for human use has proved much more difficult. Therefore, scientists and drug manufacturers developing other therapeutic enzymes, antibodies and vaccines in plants say that Elelyso’s approval may make the regulatory process more straightforward for them, and alert big pharmaceutical companies and investors to the potential profitability of plant platforms.
Before the FDA’s announcement today, Ritu Baral, a research analyst with Canaccord Genuity in New York, said, “If this drug gets approval it would be a huge proof of concept for the entire platform.” Although the company is poised to treat 2,000 patients in the United States, Baral says it’s uncertain what the US market will be because of brand loyalty to Genzyme and Shire. However, the fact that Elelyso will cost about 25% less than Cerezyme might sway buyers.
Sixty per cent of the profits from US sales will go to the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which made a deal with Protalix in 2009. However, as long as the Israeli government approves the drug, all profits in that country will go to Protalix. Israel represents a relatively large slice of the pie, as Ashkenazi Jews are disproportionately affected by the disease.
David Aviezer, president and chief executive of Protalix in Carmiel, is quite optimistic about the other carrot-made drugs in the company’s pipeline. Earlier this year, Protalix began to plan for phase I clinical trials on their protein to treat another enzyme-related disorder, Fabry disease. “This approval demonstrates a proof of concept for the power of this technology to make a large number of proteins,” Aviezer says. “We are ready to make many more.”
By Olga Lavi
Ron Shoshani is a professional photographer whose photographs appear regularly in the Israeli magazine Time Out Israel. Within a few minutes after the appearance of a new photograph, hundreds of “Likes” are recorded on Facebook.
The secret of his popularity is that Ron Shoshani does what no one did before him.
Ron grew up in a family where a lot of attention was paid to design. This contributed to the development of his interest in photography, especially in the tourist genre. At some point Ron noticed that there is a big difference between the way cities like New York, London and San Francisco are presented in glossy international magazines and the images representing Tel Aviv.
“It was really sad. On the one hand are glossy pictures of cities which, believe me, I have seen in reality and at close range, and they do not look as fantastic as in the magazines. But the sell is successful – tourists come from all over the world.
“And what about Israel? How do we look in the eyes of the world? Again and again, there are images of a market with oranges spilling all over, a couple of Hasidim with sidecurls, people with bronze skin on the beach, a soldier with a gun, the Wailing Wall – and that’s it. What, we have nothing more to show?
“Nowadays every self-respecting city is interested in tourism and has a portfolio of photos showing its potential and the beauty of its landscapes. Tel Aviv has as much to offer as those other cities, I’m absolutely sure.
“Current trends in photography can turn any place into “eye candy”, wrapped in brightly colored wrappers, and, in the case of Tel Aviv, underlining the dynamism and urban energy, the special magic for which the city is famous. And, most importantly, these photos create an irresistible desire to see the city and the country with one’s own eyes. To see the living miracle, to communicate with the city directly, not vicariously or virtually.
“I realized that my city deserves such a portfolio, deserves it as a modern developing city, endlessly interesting for tourists. A city of business and entertainment, the sea and nightlife, wonderful parks, fascinating museums, and diverse architecture.
“So I decided to make Tel Aviv high-gloss, worthy of attention and inspiring the urge to drop everything and come to know it personally. My motivation was particularly influenced by the publication of a ten-year city development plan, which involves dramatic changes in the shape of Tel Aviv. Therefore, the urgent need to capture the moment, the beauty of the city in which we live, here and now, before it grows into a small Bangkok, to capture it from above, unchanged, nostalgic and familial. ”
Shoshani began his project about two years ago, and it continues to gain momentum. It’s a process of revealing Tel Aviv’s landscape, its contours, in aspects very different from traditional notions of Tel Aviv, like the difference between walking along the street with your head down, or watching the city from the window of an airplane during takeoff or landing. Shoshani gives us a brief glimpse of the city from another dimension. He’s taking his time in photographing the Israeli metropolis: he not only wants to show a portrait of a modern city, but he also finds amazing camera angles, and the usual, familiar Tel Aviv buildings often look completely unrecognizable.
Shoshani has ambitious plans – he’s going to come back to the same places in ten or fifteen years to capture changes in the shape of the city. Dynamics of development are important to him; he captures them with his photographic eye, every shot conveying love and respect for Tel Aviv, intimate and very personal.
It’s hard to believe, but the richly colorful images do not go through much post-shooting treatment. “I’m doing an easy color correction, and the whole process is barely ten minutes per image,” says the author.
His special secret is dramatic lighting and natural phenomena, going to shoot very early in the morning or in the midst of a storm, returning time and again to the same point to capture his ideal image.
“I love my city. And I want to show it to those who have never been here, as well as to those who have lived here for years and have not seen all its matchless beauty. Once a girl from Thailand wrote me that, after viewing my pictures, she decided to come to Tel Aviv and see it with her own eyes. And what do you think? She arrived with her friends and they asked me to be their guide through the places they loved in my images… It was very touching, and in fact, this is the best affirmation of what I’m doing. ”
When Denise, the protagonist of Emile Zola’s 1883 novel, “The Ladies’ Paradise,” arrives in Paris, the first thing to catch her eye is the gleaming window display of a department store. “And there in this chapel built for the worship of women’s beauty and grace were the clothes: in the centre was a most striking item, a velvet coat trimmed with silver fox; on one side was a silk cloak lined with Siberian squirrel; on the other side was a cloth overcoat edged with cock’s feathers; and finally some evening wraps in white cashmere and white quilting, decorated with swansdown or chenille,” Zola wrote. “There was something for every whim, from evening wraps at twenty-nine francs to the velvet coat priced at eighteen hundred francs.”
Zola drew his subject from reality: the establishment of one of the first large department stores in Paris, Le Bon Marche, which operates to this day. While the fascination with high fashion is still relevant, today Denise would view fashion shows on her smartphone rather than merely peer through store windows.
And if she wanted to buy something, she could do that with the tap of a finger on the Moda Operandi Internet site, whose cofounder, Aslaug Magnusdottir, will be making an appearance in Tel Aviv tomorrow as part of a worldwide hunt for designers to work with her website.
Established a year ago, Moda Operandi enables consumers to shop straight from fashion show runways. Women around the world purchase directly from the designers, without department-store buyers or boutique managers as middlemen.
The original idea was to make the marketing process for designer clothes more efficient,” Magnusdottir told Haaretz by phone from New York before her visit here.
“I began to consider the idea following complaints I heard from designers. They were frustrated because they had designs that boutique owners did not buy and so they did not reach the broader public,” she says. “At the same time I heard from a lot of my friends that they would like to buy clothes they saw on the runway but were disappointed to find that they weren’t offered for sale in stores. And so the site was born, although it has still not reached the degree of efficiency we would like.”
More than 120,000 customers are registered on the website. The list of labels and designers is greater than 250 and includes Americans Alexander Wang and Proenza Schouler, Isabel Marant of France and Mary Katrantzou, who works in London. But Moda Operandi customers looking for pieces from their collections will find them mainly during the fashion week shows in fashion capitals. A team photographs the collections and posts them on the site for a period of three weeks. Customers must place their orders during this time, and pay in two stages: half the sum upon ordering and the remainder when the clothes arrive.
“Choices must be fast and focused,” Magnusdottir says, though there are now additional opportunities to buy from the online magazine on the Moda Operandi site. Magnusdottir also wants to enlarge the range of options and for this reason has embarked on her global search for designers. She is to talk tomorrow about her website and the revolution in high fashion created by the Internet, as the guest of 9 Rooms, a women’s lifestyle forum that meets monthly. The forum’s director, Iris Zohar, is a Moda Operandi customer who made a late-night purchase of a white Vera Wang dress through the site in September.
This isn’t Magnusdottir’s first visit to distant places. Last summer she hosted an event in Brazil, and before that held one in Iceland, where she was born. In September she organized an event in Kuwait attended by 75 fashion-conscious women that was followed by a sharp rise in Moda Operandi sales to the region. “Today Abu Dhabi is the city with the most customers, after New York − something that happened within only a few months,” she says.
Magnusdottir says she sees the Middle East as an important and developing market but that her visit to Israel is not only intended to promote sales. She is also curious about the local design scene and expects to visit several studios here. “Right now we work with Yigal Azrouel,” she says of an Israeli designer who is based in New York. “Of course I’d be glad to discover other talented designers during my visit.” Two labels that have aroused her curiosity are Sasson Kedem and Dorit Bar Or’s Pas Pour Toi.
It seems that Moda Operandi customers don’t only flock to big names. Famous designers are important, Magnusdottir says, but what motivates her customers is “a quality product and not necessarily the name,” she says. “Our customers are of various ages but the average is in her 30s. We’ve discovered that they are looking for special items they can’t find in boutique catalogs or department stores. Unsold designer clothes answer this need.
“Part of the concept is that young designers or those who are not well known on the international scene will be awarded greater recognition,” she adds. “This sales method is especially important to beginning designers, for whom the advance payment provides them with cash flow, and the orders grant immediate feedback on the demand for their product. From the point of view of the customer, she’s always happy to discover new talent. It’s a great advantage for her.”
Magnusdottir’s list of designers she wants to work with is not only filled with promising young talent. It is headed by Lanvin, Celine and Chanel. She is currently in negotiations with the first. With the other two, the situation is a bit different.
Celine does not sell anything online. This is a strategic decision by the firm’s managers in order to create an almost sacred image,” Magnusdottir says. “Chanel is different. It is an attractive and veteran label with sales points around the world, and therefore relatively accessible.”
Magnusdottir wholeheartedly believes that even elite labels will eventually be convinced to sell online. “You must remember that even just five years ago most designers swore they would not sell their designs online, and today the situation has changed and the Internet is a sales channel for exclusive items,” she says.
“The entire atmosphere has changed in recent years, and managers understand that online sales can also provide a luxury experience.”
Does she believe that her site will open a new channel for creativity? “I think that the idea inspires them and they are rather excited by the new opportunity for direct contact with their customers,” she says. “Does this make them more creative? I don’t know yet. It is too early to say. But I am sure that in the future this platform will encourages new designs.”
And what impact does she think the site will have on store buyers? “We hope their choices will become more daring in the wake of the customers’ vote of confidence. When we send orders from the site [to the designer], we attach information about the customer. They can use this information, share it with boutique managers who acquire pieces from their collections, and turn their attention to the fact that certain models sold well in a certain area, and so perhaps the buyers should reconsider their choices.”
“Developing games in Israel is difficult. The distance from where things are happening, from the creative content centers, is no small obstacle.” This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this claim, but this time it’s coming from Yaron Leifenberg, CEO of Israel’s Funtactix. Leifenberg is someone who seems, after years of hard work, to have overcome the distance and make his studio an attractive development partner for Hollywood brands like “Mission Impossible” and “The Hunger Games,” for which he developed Facebook games.
In 2002, Leifenberg and his then-girlfriend began dabbling in game development and wanted to establish a complete platform for social gaming. Only a Flash-based game or two remain from this vision. But as they say: “Every journey begins with the first step.”
Leifenberg founded Funtactix in 2006, and today the company has a staff of 20 employees. The original plan was to create three-dimensional multi-player games for a new audience – less hardcore than the consumers of most multi-player games at the time.
The branded new world of multi-player games was dubbed Mondo – and to judge by events in the gaming world in recent years, Mondo was the right direction to take. What he didn’t have were marketing and distribution channels that would bring him to the attention of the non-gaming audience he was aiming at. Mondo couldn’t get off the ground before hard economic times hit the company, and the world.
Things are completely different for Funtactix’ new game, “The Hunger Games Adventures.” The beta version of the Facebook game – which has players survive harsh times in District 12 with help from the heroine, Katniss – drew a million active users in a month, 150,000 of whom are active daily.
The brand and the social media platform make all the difference – along with, probably, the studio’s increasing professionalism.
Other than the story by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games Adventures” is a typical Facebook game – based on simple, repeated actions designed to tempt the player to spend a little money to save waiting or effort. People who don’t care for this kind of game won’t change their mind, but even they will discern that the game is polished and for a Facebook game has excellent presentation.
When the financial crisis hit, Funtactix hit re-start. Seeking a new direction, the firm contacted agents in Los Angeles and sent a representative to New York. The company was looking to cooperate with familiar entertainment brands. Step by step, the studio gained both contacts and reputation. Funtactix headed the creation of a game site for the animated film “Rango,” then a social game for “Mission Impossible,” as well as the current interactive version of the pessimistic but popular future in Panem. This cooperation lets Funtactix focus on development, resting secure that the brand and the marketing folks will take care of the other, no less critical, part.
What does the future hold for the company? First of all, there are ambitious plans for “The Hunger Games.” The game is undergoing expansion, with new stages, objects, and areas being added constantly. With Collins’ help, the game will add many other aspects of the world she created in her popular series.
Aside from the current project and future collaborations, Leifenberg has not given up on his goal of creating games based on an original IP that will let players put their creative muscles into high gear. First – gain some experience and a solid financial footing. Then, who knows?
Funtactix and companies like it are still part of the pioneers of the Israeli gaming industry, who have been draining swamps for 20 years and have yet to make a significant breakthrough in the international gaming industry, which is worth about $100 billion a year.
Thanks to Funtactix’ groundbreaking activity, one can only hope that the local gaming sector will flourish, something we have spent a decade wishing for, and now looks feasible.
Following the successful beta launch of “The Hunger Games,” we received the following message from Gadi Tirosh, a partner in the JVP venture capital firm and a member of the Funtactix board of directors: “We are proud that a company from JVP’s media sector has once again been chosen for important work with a Hollywood giant. This past year, we have entered into a number of agreements with leading partners such as Paramount, Universal, and Warner Brothers, which is an acknowledgement of Israel’s creative and technological capability.”