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Business trends

Israeli medical startups beat a path to aging Japan

Rising investment drives spread of innovations like smartphone urinalysis

Tel Aviv startup Healthy.io is promoting a smartphone-linked urinalysis kit, depicted in this graphic from its website.

TOKYO -- Israeli startups are targeting the medical market in Japan, home to one of the world's fastest-aging societies.

The sliver of the Middle East has emerged as a hotbed of autonomous driving and cybersecurity technologies. Now, backed by government-driven investment, young companies are zeroing in on health care. And many of them see Japan as a lucrative destination after the U.S., the world's biggest medical market.

Tel Aviv company Healthy.io aims to sell a home urine testing kit that works with a smartphone app.

Users simply dip a test strip in their urine, then take a picture of the strip with a smartphone camera. Based on the colors on the paper, the app will determine whether the user has a urinary tract infection or other diseases. The test results can be shared with health care professionals online.

Another company from Tel Aviv, Alpha Tau Medical, has partnered with Japanese biotechnology startup HekaBio to release radiation therapy equipment in Japan in 2021, at the earliest.

The product is designed to treat patients with breast, skin and other solid cancers. Unlike most such equipment, Alpha Tau's "radioactive seeds" emit alpha rays from inside the body. These rays are more powerful than other forms of radiation but are less likely to damage surrounding cells.

HekaBio CEO Robert Claar has high hopes the device will prove practical. "We can provide this therapy at lower prices than external radiation therapies," he said.

The entrepreneurship boom that earned Israel a reputation as the "Startup Nation" can be traced, in part, to its compulsory military service for men and women over the age of 18. Some units are trained in programming and defending against cyberattacks.

"The nature of finding and solving an issue is strongly linked to starting a business," said Yoav Ramot, CEO of Million Steps, a Tokyo consultancy that focuses on Israel.

Growing investment in Israeli life sciences startups is helping these businesses push into Japan along with the U.S. and Europe. Such ventures raised about $1.2 billion in 2017, a 3.6-fold increase from 2008, according to Israel's IVC Research Center.

Although the number of investments was virtually unchanged from 2016 to 2017, the amount of money increased.

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