Galilee Faculty of Medicine

Professor Michael Hayden: "We are facing a tsunami of neurodegenerative illness”. Symposium marks the opening of two new Teva research programs at the Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee.
Galilee Faculty of Medicine
(right to left): Dr.Evan Elliott, Head of the Molecular Neurobiology and Behavioral Laboratory in Safed; Prof. Ran Tur-Caspa, Dean, Bar Ilan Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee; Sigal Shaltiel Halevi, Director, Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee; Silvan Shalom, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee; Erez Vigodman, Teva President and CEO; Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, President of Bar Ilan University; Dr. Michael Hayden, Teva Chief Scientific Officer and President of Global R&D; Raya Strauss Ben-Dror, President and co-owner of Strauss Investment Company; Prof. Tzipora Falik-Zaccai, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Western Galilee Hospital; Iris Beck-Codner, Teva Group Executive Vice President, Corporate Marketing and Communication

“The good news is that life expectancy is increasing, along with the number of people celebrating their 100th birthday, or even more. The bad news is that one in every three people in this room will not know it when they reach the age of 80. We are facing a tsunami of Alzheimer's and dementia." This sobering prediction was offered by Dr. Michael Hayden, Teva's Chief Scientific Officer and President of Global R&D, at the Safed, Israel scientific symposium - part of the opening ceremony marking a new collaboration between Teva and Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee.
Dr. Hayden was addressing a hall filled with medical students, researchers, authors and lecturers, as well as President of Bar Ilan University, Rabbi Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz, researchers participating in Teva’s National Network of Excellence in Neuroscience (NNE), and members of Teva’s board of directors led by Teva CEO Erez Vigodman.

Looking for Genetic Changes

Dr. Hayden devoted a significant part of his lecture to Huntington Disease, explaining that neurodegenerative diseases are caused by changes in the genetic sequence which can lead to a range of diseases of the central nervous system. These changes may be expressed as common diseases of the elderly, such as increased frequency of cancer, as well as neurodegenerative diseases that include Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. Genetic changes may also lead to rare
congenital diseases which can result in great suffering for patients and their families, and even death. More research is needed, Hayden noted, to understand and develop treatments for these diseases.

Teva is focused on the field of neuroscience, where it is at the forefront of improving understanding
and therapies. "Connecting new knowledge with medicines and personalized treatment is the scientific challenge for us at Teva”, said Dr. Hayden.

Dr. Michael Hayden, Teva's Chief Scientific Officer and President of Global R&D, addresses the symposium

Outstanding Researchers Recognized

At the opening event, two individuals also received special recognition: Prof. Tzipora Falik-Zaccai, Director of the Institute of Human Genetics at the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, was announced as the Director of Teva’s Human Genetics Program at the Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. In addition, Dr. Evan Elliott, Head of the Molecular Neurobiology and Behavioral Laboratory in Safed, in northern Israel, was announced as the Director of Teva’s Brain Research Program (focusing on autism) at the Faculty of Medicine in Safed.

Prof. Falik-Zaccai specialized in medical genetics at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US. In the past year, Prof. Falik-Zaccai participated in a research study at Stanford University involving DNA repair mechanisms related to cancer and aging. She is a recognized expert in medical genetics in the US, and a senior lecturer in human genetics, and biochemical and molecular genetics at Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. In 2009, Prof. Falik-Zaccai was selected as the outstanding physician at the Western Galilee Medical Center. In 2010, she founded and lectured for a new MA program in genetic counselling at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology.

Prof. Falik-Zaccai and Teva CEO Erez Vigodman

Dr. Evan Elliott was born in San Jose, California and moved to Israel in 2001 after completing his undergraduate degree in biology at the University of California. He completed his master's degree and doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where he investigated disorders in the folding of proteins in Alzheimer's patients. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Weizmann Institute, Dr. Elliot discovered that epigenetic changes in the brain following trauma may lead to a tendency to depression. This study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience and is one of the works that constitute the field of behavioral epigenetics. Dr. Elliott is one of the founding researchers at the Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. There, he and his team are investigating molecular mechanisms in the brain that have an important role in the development of autism spectrum disorders. These studies are directed at finding molecular pathways that could lead to future medical treatments.

Cutting-edge Genetic Counselling

At the symposium, held in the first week of March in Safed, Dr. Inon Schenker, Senior Director Public Health at Teva R&D, described how Prof. Falik-Zaccai and her colleagues are making use of advanced knowledge and cutting-edge technologies in the study of rare monogenic diseases, as well as common multifactor diseases. He also highlighted how they are developing educational programs and custom genetic counseling for different Galilee ethnic populations. Research of this type, intended to identify the genetic mutations in rare genetic disease, has not yet been described in the literature. However, it promises many advantages for patients, their families and communities, in addition to the scientific community.

Identifying problematic genes can lead to swift diagnosis and treatment for patients. Determining the biological basis of a disease will enable genetic counseling and diagnosis, leading to prevention of serious disease in affected families. Since many Galilee communities are characterized by inbreeding, there is a higher incidence of genetic modifications in these communities. Identifying the genetic cause of disease therefore allows entire communities to benefit from diagnostic services and testing of at-risk couples during pregnancy. “This research contributes greatly to the understanding of the biological mechanisms essential to human health and the development of novel therapeutic approaches," states Prof. Falik-Zaccai.

Understanding Autism

During the symposium, Dr. Elliott lectured about autism and highlighted recent epidemiological studies that indicate that autism is 50% genetic in origin. Other issues such as environmental factors have an equal contribution to the development of autism. Dr. Elliott noted that some of the environmental factors contributing to the development of autism remain unknown, while additional primary factors, including maternal immune system function and microbiome content, have received significant attention. Researchers are working to identify the environmental factors that may be involved in the development of autism, and the biological mechanisms that are disrupted and that result in autistic behavior. Scientific breakthroughs in this area, says Dr. Elliott, will require a combination of epidemiological and biological data from large groups of people with autistic spectrum disorders.

“Thanks to the important contribution of Teva, we will be able to establish a national registry of people with autism spectrum disorders in Israel and collect tissue samples. Analysis of these samples will enable identification of environmental factors, as well as biological pathways that are disturbed. This will lead to the identification of therapeutic targets. This information is essential to promote study in this field, and to find a treatment for autism spectrum disorders", stated Dr. Elliott.

Dr. Evan Elliott addresses the symposium

An Investment in Excellence

The research centers that have been established represent an investment of $4 Million from Teva with equal matching funds from Bar Ilan University. This exciting collaboration will promote the study of genetic diseases and autism, and represents a significant investment in promoting scientific excellence in Israel’s Galilee region.