At 44, Gal Markel is a biotech bulldozer. After a $95 million exit, the professor of immunology serves as the Deputy Director General of Beilinson Hospital and the Director of the Davidoff Cancer Center, and is also involved in five startups. Now he has raised around $33 million to establish the Samueli Institute, researching ways to help the immune system eradicate cancer cells
“If you build it, they will come.” This is the philosophy that guides biotech entrepreneur Prof. Gal Markel, and it is not taken from a business administration book or from an inspiring story from hospital corridors, but rather from the movie “Field of Dreams”, in which Kevin Costner plays a farmer from Iowa, who hears this sentence over and over again when working in his cornfield, calling him to build a baseball field. “The meaning of this is: ‘You start, then people will join and it will grow,'” explains Markel in an interview from his office in the Davidoff Center, where from the window behind him, strangely enough, a statue of Spider-Man standing on the roof of Schneider Hospital can be seen. His determination and vision were always there, and they turned him into a phenom.
Here is a quick summary of the 44-year-old Markel’s remarkable success to date: At the age of 26, he completed a doctorate in immunology with top honors and within four years he was appointed as the chief scientist of The Ella Institute for Treatment and Research of Melanoma at the Sheba Medical Center. At the age of 35 he became the youngest ever professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Tel Aviv University (and later also completed a master’s degree in business administration). In the same year, he also made an impressive exit, when the German pharmaceutical giant Merck purchased a breakthrough antibody he had developed to eradicate various types of cancer, for $95 million upfront and another $510 million in milestone payments.
Today, six years later, Markel is already the Deputy Director General of the Rabin Medical Center, Director of the Davidoff Cancer Center, and these days he’s unveiling a new baby, the Samueli Integrative Cancer Pioneering Institute, which merges a biotech incubator with a university research institute and boasts a business culture and key performance indicators (KPIs).
The institute was established thanks to a donation of around $33 million, raised by Markel from the Samueli Foundation, founded by Dr. Henry Samueli, founder and chairman of the chip giant Broadcom, and his wife Dr. Susan Samueli. This is an unusual donation, not only in scope, but also in its essence. In complete contrast from the typical philanthropy in the public health system, which is often dedicated to the purchase of equipment or the construction of a building, on which the donor’s name is emblazoned, the Samueli Foundation’s contribution is a kind of particularly generous research grant, which is not time-bound. “It will be an organization similar to a startup,” explains Markel, “and the intention is to succeed in creating, through some of our activities, intellectual assets, services, and agreements that will enable the future existence of the institute, and not rely only on additional donations.”