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.”
World class scientists and top research students raided Tel Aviv bars on Monday, in another installment of what a successful tradition called “Science on Tap.”
For one night a year scientists from the Weizmann Institute taking part in the program trade their labs and classrooms with dark, smoky bars, and the young students with a wide range of listeners, holding not a pen, but a beer in their hand.
Tel Aviv’s best bars not only hosted those who are usually considered as outsiders, but turned the spotlight to them, with topics ranging from alternate realities; the fate of the universe; genetic engineering; and even on how quantum physics works in a glass of beer.
The idea to abandon the labs and hit the city’s nightlife formed when the Weizmann Institute decided it wants to broaden its student base. Instead of trying to convince people to come to class and listen to scientific lectures, they come to where the public is and talk in an informal, friendly, day to day language.
While at first some were skeptic, today it’s clear the event is a success, with 55 bars taking part (compared to 40 in the past year) and people signing up for the event weeks in advance.
The seven Israeli academics to be awarded Mifal HaPayis’ Landau Prize for Science and Research for 2011 have been named
The winner for research in liberal arts and classics is Dr. Aharon Shabtai of Tel Aviv University.
The prize for research in religious studies has been awarded to Prof. Steven Kaplan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, while Prof. Amatzia Genin of the Hebrew University has won the prize for research in the field of ecology.
The prize for research in the field of biology and evolution has been conferred on Prof. Eviatar Nevo from the University of Haifa, and the Technion’s Prof. David Hasson has won the life sciences-desalination prize.
Prof. Gil Navon of Tel Aviv University is the winner of the prize for research in life sciences-magnetic imaging, and Prof. Chaim Gans of Tel Aviv University and the Shalom Hartman Institute has been awarded the prize for political science and international relations.
The Landau Prizes are scheduled to be conferred at a ceremony in May, and each of the winners will receive NIS 50,000.
Mifal HaPayis will also be handing out prizes for the arts to the following artists: Amir Benayun (Israeli music); Ronit Elkabetz (film acting); David Gurfinkel (cinematography); Doron Salomon (singing); Eli Degibri (jazz); Shosh Reisman (composing for theater.)
Dudi Goldman contributed to this report.
Israel ranked 14th in the United Nations’ first World Happiness Report. The list is headed by Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands, the paradises of political correctness, welfare, anti-war, ultra-liberal and anti-nationalistic feelings, beacons which, according to the Global Peace Index, topped the list of the most “peaceful” places in the world.
So how can we explain the happiness of Israel, the only civilized country under mortal danger, the only nation without recognized borders and globally selected to be an emblem of evil?
To people who don’t live in Israel, this is a mystery. Many Israelis probably can’t figure it out, either. How is it possible that a population living under a perpetual emotional strain and ghettoizing itself behind new Maginot lines is so happy?
How can the Jews be happy when Iran is going nuclear and threatening to wipe them off the map? How can they be happy when the Arabs are firing rockets every day at civilians in Ashkelon, Beersheba, Ashdod and Sderot? What are the sources of the happiness of the only UN member condemned to death and boycotted all over the world?
Israel is much happier than all the European countries that experienced their last war six decades ago. The Jewish state’s population exceeds 7.5 million, nine times that of 1948, the year of the state’s creation. Israelis are happy because they succeeded demographically; considering the Diaspora’s low birth rates and high assimilation rates, it may not be long before most of the world’s Jews will be Israelis.
Despite Jewish heroism and Israeli collectivism giving way to Western individualism, self-criticism and frivolous hedonism, Israeli happiness is much more than the American dream of a large house and a nice car. It lies at the intersection between pleasure and meaning, “a nation like all other nations” but also “a light unto the nations.”
Israelis, which have one of the longest life expectancies of any nation in the world, are happy because their country has a history of scintillating enlightenment, with the highest production of scientific publications per capita in the world, more museums per capita and the highest worldwide publication of new books. In a war-ravaged country like Israel, the past few years saw five Israeli Nobel Prize winners.
Another reason is economic success. No other industrialized country does it better, especially for a nation that doesn’t have natural resources and has a population roughly half of Belgium’s. Israel’s high-tech industry is flourishing, making the country known as “start-up nation.”
While Israel’s social fabric is deeply divided between ultra-Orthodox Jews and “Hellenistic” Israelis, nationalists and leftists, two-thirds of Israelis believe in God, therefore maintaining the hope and feeling that there is higher meaning and purpose to their lives. There is also the attachment to the Jewish land, while love for one’s land is a nationalistic taboo in the West.
Overall, Israel’s population is very resilient. A new governmental study just found that Intifada-era violence did nothing to affect Israel’s national morale. Israelis are also happy because they know that Dimona and the IDF are there to protect them, even if the army lost some of its famous deterrence.
Finally, there is the most important reason why Israeli happiness is an enchanting and heartening mystery for all free men. When comparing the fertility rate to the suicide rate, one can see the proportion of people who choose to create new life against the proportion who choose to destroy their own. This is why the Jews will ultimately win a centennial war against an enemy ready to sacrifice all of its children in order to throw all Israelis into the sea.
In Israel, the celebrations of life are far more numerous than the memories of death. That’s Israel’s secret for happiness: it’s a lighthouse of life on the border between survival and destruction. Ultimately, life will prevail over death.
by Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio.
The drilling project led by researchers from Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University has also revealed that water levels of the sea have risen and fallen by hundreds of meters over the last 200,000 years.
Directed by Prof. Zvi Ben-Avraham of TAU’s Minerva Dead Sea Research Center and Prof. Mordechai Stein of the Geological Survey of Israel, researchers drilled 460 meters beneath the sea floor and extracted sediments spanning 200,000 years.
The material recovered revealed the region’s past climatic conditions and may allow researchers to forecast future changes.
Layers of salt indicated several periods of dryness and very little rainfall, causing water to recede and salt to gather at the center of the lake.
The researchers found that approximately 120,000 years ago, the sea came close to drying up entirely, with another period of extreme dryness taking place about 13,000 years ago.
Today, the Dead Sea lies 426 meters below sea level and is receding rapidly.
Despite this historical precedent, there is still cause for concern, said Prof. Ben-Avraham.
In the past the change was climate-driven, the result of natural conditions; today, the lake is threatened by human activity.
“What we see happening in the Middle East is something that mimics a severe dry period, but this is not climate-enforced, this is a man-made phenomenon,” he warned, caused by increasing amounts of water being taken from rivers for irrigation before it reaches the Dead Sea.
Ultimately, this prevents the refilling of the sea by the waters of the Jordan River.
A team of Israeli scientists has been able to crack the code to mammals’ longevity: The team, led by by Dr. Haim Cohen, of Bar-Ilan University’s Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life Sciences, has discovered a gene that promotes longer life in mammals.
The team includes researchers from Hadassah Medical Center, the Hebrew University and Carnegie Mellon University, the discovery of the gene – in mice – increases the likelihood that similar activity can be found in a human gene.
According to a Bar Ilan press release, researchers are focusing on a group of genes, known as Sirtuins, which can be found in every species developed over the course of evolution and are, in one way or another, found in single-celled organisms, such as yeast, and in complex organisms, such as humans.
The most highly researched gene in this group is SIR2 (Sirtuin 2) which has been found to prolong life in yeast, worms and flies.
Research of the SIR2 gene in mammals yielded a set of seven genes – Sirtuins 1-7 or SIRT 1-7 – each of which works in key reactions in the process of life.
Dr. Cohen’s team examined gene number 6 from the Sirtuin group (SIRT6) in mice. He used two groups of mice. In one group SIRT6 was removed from the mice and in the second group he created an over-expression of the gene in mice.
“Originally in mice without the gene, researchers saw premature aging,” says Cohen. “They suffered spinal curvature, calcium deficiency and osteoporosis, immune system problems, and diabetes – conditions which are familiar to us in aging humans. We called the second group, which we created in the laboratory, the ‘MOSES’ mice (an acronym for mice over-expressing exogenous SIRT6), and compared their lifespan to that of wild-type mice, which possess a normal amount of SIRT6.”
Cohen and his team fed two groups of wild-type and MOSES mice a high-fat diet containing 60% more fat calories than average. The wild mice developed the diseases associated with aging, while the MOSES mice remained healthy.
MOSES bodies contained 30% less fat, about 40% fewer triglycerides (which increase cholesterol) and 30% less diabetes compared to the MOSES mice. Concerning lifespan, wild strain female mice usually live longer than males. In the tests conducted by Cohen on 250 wild and MOSES mice, they found that with normal diet the MOSES male mice lived 15% longer than the male wild species. However, among the MOSES females, no change was recorded. What, then, gives the females a longer life expectancy?
“We found that the rise in life expectancy among males is based on the calorie restriction known to us as a basic mechanism of life extension. There is overlap between these pathways, and the SIRT6 gene is involved in it. Females from the very beginning have a longer life expectancy than males because the basic mechanism is already active, so the engineered males just catch up to females,” concludes Cohen.
“In the current study, published today, we’ve made a huge evolutionary leap in the transition from yeast cells to mice. We were the first to show that these sirtuin genes regulate life span in mammals.
“The research was conducted in laboratory animals under very sterile conditions. Is this what happens in nature? It’s not clear. The human SIRT6 gene is very similar to that in mice. It could be that drugs designed to activate the gene will have a positive impact on our ability to treat age-related diseases whose frequency increases in the elderly and in the physiological damage caused by obesity.”