British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a £3.2 million ($4.9 million) funding boost for eight medical research projects between British and Israeli universities. The collaborative projects use stem cells to develop treatments and therapies for major diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's, liver disease, and multiple sclerosis.
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Hailing the two countries' strong bilateral relationship, Cameron called the U.K. a proud partner of Israeli science. "In so many areas our scientists are working together and engaged in some of the most significant projects of our age. Their research has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of millions of people," he said on Wednesday.
The funding is part of the Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership (BIRAX). BIRAX's £10 million ($15.4 million) Regenerative Medicine Initiative gave its first grants in 2013, with the dual aim of strengthening academic cooperation and supporting cutting-edge stem cell research.
This year, for the first time major financial support has also come from four medical research charities: the British Heart Foundation, type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, the M.S. Society, and Parkinson’s U.K. It will facilitate research at the universities of Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Manchester, and Nottingham in the U.K., and at Hadassah, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Galilee Research Institute, Teknion, and the Weizmann Institute in Israel.
Chair of the U.K.-Israel Science Council and Oxford Professor Raymond Dwek said: "Every now and then a technology breakthrough in science holds promise for dramatic progress in disease therapy and cures. The BIRAX initiative which is supported by leading scientists in the U.K. has focused on stem cell therapies with this goal and acknowledges that the U.K. science base is complemented by the outstanding work in this area in Israel. This combination offers real hope of substantial progress in many disease areas".
Wednesday's announcement comes at a time of vocal but fringe support from British academics for a boycott of Israeli institutions. The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking pulled out of a conference in Jerusalem last May; the Council of the Royal Institute of British Architects voted to exclude their Israeli counterparts before rescinding the suspension; and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is raising attention across university campuses.
On a visit to Israel in March, British Universities Minister David Willets voiced his government's opposition to academic boycotts. He reiterated David Cameron's comments to the Israeli Knesset, saying that BIRAX was evidence of "a political and economic relationship that's never been stronger".
The prime minister had earlier told Israeli politicians: "I have a clear message – Britain opposes boycotts; whether it is trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange, Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians".
Madi Jacobson, CEO of JDRF Israel said: "JDRF Israel is excited to take part in the BIRAX initiative, and proud of the leading Israeli researchers involved. It is truly inspiring to be part of a team which holds investing and promoting innovative medical research in high priority. We trust this collaboration of brilliant scientific minds from Israel and UK will improve the lives of millions affected by type 1 diabetes around the world."