Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford recently attended his first trade mission to Israel with the Maryland Israel Development Center and the Maryland Department of Commerce.
While visiting the Jewish state from Jan. 28 to Feb. 2, Rutherford spoke to leaders of the Israeli and international cybersecurity communities at the sixth annual Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv. In addition, he met with Vered Caplan, CEO of Orgenesis Inc., an Israeli biopharmaceutical company working in advanced cell and gene therapy. Orgenesis recently signed a partnership with Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University.
To learn more about this partnership, Jmore spoke with Rutherford; Helen Montag, senior director for corporate partnerships at Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures; and MIDC Executive director Barry Bogage.
Jmore: What is most exciting to you about this partnership between JHU and Orgenesis?
Rutherford: Orgenesis is a brilliant Israeli company and I was pleased to meet with Orgenesis’s CEO when we were in Israel. They have a technology platform, the point-of-care platform, that they are hoping will reduce the cost of gene therapy for cancer by tenfold. That would save lives. It’s very exciting that Orgenesis has chosen to work with Johns Hopkins University, and Johns Hopkins has chosen to work with them.
Bogage: Cell therapy manufacturing is a great platform technology that will lead to the development and manufacturing of the next generation of cell therapies, enabling researchers, startups and pharmaceutical companies to develop and deliver their new technologies in Maryland at Johns Hopkins University.
What does this partnership say about the relationship between Maryland and Israel?
Rutherford: There is such a strong, historic relationship between Maryland and Israel. I like to think it’s been improved by Governor [Larry] Hogan and me. We are strong proponents of the state of Israel. And Israeli companies see the value of working with Maryland companies. I was surprised to see the number of individuals from Maryland that now live in Israel and have companies there.
Montag: It will likely allow us to develop new treatments. For example, we can be working on new ways to treat pancreatic cancer. A novel way to take the patient’s blood and treat it, then put it back in the patient as healthy cells.
Bogage: Maryland and Israel have many parallel strengths in technology, cybersecurity, defense, medical technologies and biotech. It’s a great opportunity to bring together these strengths to create life-saving technologies of the future, as well as new companies and jobs.
What is the significance of this partnership?
Montag: The faculty at Johns Hopkins is interested in working in the cell and gene therapy space. People in industry, such as Orgenesis, have an expertise that will help our faculty in a significant way, plus an ability to handle volume. We believe that once our new facility is up and running, faculty from the School of Medicine, the School of Engineering and some departments of the School of Public Health will want to join us.
We are grateful to the State of Maryland and Governor Hogan for the very generous $5 million grant to build out this facility and to encourage public private partnerships.
Why is JHU the right place for this partnership to grow?
Montag: The depth and breadth of our expertise is unparalleled, perhaps the best in the nation. This partnership will enable us to translate our work from the bench to the bedside. Our scientists have the biological ideas. Orgenesis — experts in engineering — translates them into a process that can be replicated repetitively. Our scientists work with scientists from other areas, across disciplines to help one another. The quality of the science and the caliber of the work is number one, as is the collegial environment.
What individuals and/or organizations are most likely to benefit from this partnership?
Montag: Our faculty, including oncologists, are likely to benefit patients with cancer and with diabetes. This is also an economic development that will provide jobs for Marylanders, from repetitive jobs to senior scientists.
What are some of your most lasting impressions of this particular mission to Israel?
Bogage: This was a great trip to Israel. I always like to take people who have never been there before. The history of Jerusalem always astounds people. Lt. Gov. Rutherford was no different. He was fascinated by Israel, eager and inquisitive about both the history of all the cultures coming together, as well as all the technologies being developed by the startups. And personally, he’s an absolute pleasure to travel with, a real gentleman.
Rutherford: On a personal level, it was great to see Israel and the Holy Land. Tel Aviv is a bustling city, a rival of any major city in the world. Go outside Tel Aviv and see historic areas. My favorite place was Jerusalem. Its beauty, its architecture and the use of Jerusalem stone. And the religious significance of the Old City in Jerusalem was very impactful.
And of course the food was great. Everyone wanted to feed us wherever we went. It was great.
One other thing. I’ve turned into a hummus snob now. I don’t think I can eat commercial hummus here in the United States anymore. I try something and I think, ‘It’s not quite as good as I had in Jerusalem.’
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.
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