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Britain-Israel Relations: Britain-Israel Research & Academic Exchange Partnership (BIRAX)

On July 20, 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a new academic exchange program in signing a joint declaration to establish BIRAX - the Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange Partnership.

BIRAX was developed by the British Council in collaboration with the Pears Foundation following a statement of intent from British Minister for Higher Education Bill Rammell to strengthen academic collaboration between the United Kingdom and Israel during an official visit to the Jewish State in 2007. The program targets junior academics by awarding those studying the exact sciences and social sciences with grants for research and exchange opportunities. The program was initially to run for five years.

While the British and Israeli governments will contribute £20,000 and NIS 120,000, respectively, in the first year, the vast majority of the funding will come from non-governmental sources. The Pears Foundation decided to contribute £500,000 over five years and the United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA) has stepped up to contribute £200,000 over the same time period.

In February 2010, the British government announced it was increasing funding for BIRAX and contributed an additional £29,000 to the program. That same year, BIRAX announced 15 collaborative academic projects at 17 different universities across the UK and Israel that were awarded its first grants, totaling £365,000.

In early September 2012, BIRAX helped to fund five new collaborative research projects between Israel and the UK looking at regenerative medicine. Some of the studies focus on work towards treatments and therapies for Parkinson's disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The projects, which have the backing of British scientist Lord Winston, brings together scientists from Edinburgh, Oxford and Cambridge Universities with those from the Weizmann Institute and Hebrew University.

In May 2013, Israeli Minister for Science, Technology and Space Yaakov Peri and British Foreign Secretary William Hague signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on bilateral science cooperation as part of BIRAX. The memorandum set out five priority areas for future science cooperation: advanced materials and nano-technology; agri-sciences, with a focus on water; neuroscience; space research and technology; and, regenerative medicine. The MOU also confirmed that the UK and Israel will award 30 new fellowships through the BIRAX partnership in 2013-14.

Commenting on the agreement, Secretary Hague said, “Both the UK and Israel are scientific superpowers, and many of our universities and academics are already doing tremendous work together. Today I had the pleasure to meet some Israeli scientists working closely with British colleagues working on cures to some of the world’s worst diseases as part of the BIRAX project.  The Memorandum of Understanding I signed today will focus our efforts in five key areas, and increase our cooperation even further.”

In 2015 BIRAX will be involved in funding eight projects on stem cell research, developing medicines and hopefully cures for diabetes, heart disease, Parkinsons disease, liver disease, and multiple sclerosis. BIRAX will be contributing $4.8 million to these programs, run out of eleven top universities in Britain and Israel, including Cambridge, Edinburgh, Manchester, Nottingham, Cardiff, Hadassah Hospital, Hebrew University, and the Technion.  The projects that these funds will be going towards include breath tests for Parkinsons disease, regenerating immune cells to treat diabetes, and using damaged heat cells to restore heart muscular tissue.   A large portion of the funds for these projects were contributed by the following UK medical research charities: The British Heart Foundation, JDRF, the MS Society, and Parkinsons UK. 

Sources: Jerusalem Post (July 20, 2008; February 5, 2010; May 24, 2013); Jewish Chronicle (September 10, 2012); Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Times of Israel (February 11, 2015)