Israeli Device Maker to Move to Mass

Marlborough tapped as Israel firm’s US base; seeks FDA approval for suit to aid walking

Argo Medical Technologies Ltd., an Israeli company that makes devices enabling paraplegics to walk, said Tuesday that it will open its US headquarters in Massachusetts and expects to hire up to 40 people here within the next three to five years.

The move was disclosed in dramatic fashion at the AdvaMed 2012 medical technology convention, where a US Army veteran who uses a wheelchair demonstrated Argo’s ReWalk device by climbing down from a podium with crutches and ambling through the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

“I am standing, and the doctors told me I would never stand again,” said Theresa Hannigan, an Army sergeant who must use a wheelchair because of an autoimmune disease contracted during her Vietnam-era service. “This is life altering. It gives me independence.”

Argo’s chief executive, Larry Jasinski, who spent more than a decade at Boston Scientific Corp., said the 11-year-old Israeli company has chosen Marlborough for its American operations base and will increase hiring there if ReWalk wins approval from the Food and Drug Administration next year for use in the United States. The mobility device was approved by European regulators last month, and Argo plans to file its US application with the FDA later this month.

ReWalk is an exoskeleton suit that allows people with lower limb disabilities, whether from accidents, injuries, or neurodegnerative disorders, to stand and walk without assistance. Users adjust settings on a watchband for standing, walking, and climbing stairs, and a tilt sensor picks up motions and sends them to a computer controlling a motor and gear on either leg.

“The hardest thing about this device is learning to balance,” Hannigan said as she demonstrated the ReWalk. “Once you learn to balance, you’re home free.”

Governor Deval Patrick joined Hannigan and Jasinski on the podium in the Massachusetts pavilion at the Advanced Medical Technology Association convention. Patrick said Argo’s move was the latest example of state officials’ ability to draw out-of-state and overseas life sciences companies to Massachusetts. He visited Israel on a trade mission with industry leaders last year to promote Massachusetts partnerships with Israeli life sciences firms.

“Not only is Argo going to bring new jobs to our life sciences supercluster, it’s also going to bring amazing, groundbreaking technology,” Patrick told a crowd at the pavilion.

Although the state is investing $1 billion over 10 years to build up the biotechnology and medical device sectors — and Jasinski cited the Patrick initiative as an example of the state’s commitment to life sciences that attracted Argo — no public money was spent to entice the Israeli company to come to Massachusetts, state officials said.

“We believe it is a great base for us and for anyone from the US who wants to work with Europe and Israel,” Jasinski said.

Argo’s sales, marketing, clinical, regulatory, and reimbursement operations will be based in Marlborough, Jasinski said, while research and production will remain in Yokneam, Israel. “Our goal is to make the Argo ReWalk device available to anyone in the world who wants it,” he said.

Argo’s announcement was the centerpiece of Tuesday’s activity in the 1,200-square-foot Massachusetts pavilion, where 18 state companies and academic institutions are hosting exhibits. The event, while smaller than the Biotechnology Industry Organization convention held in Boston in June, still drew more than 2,400 people from 25 countries, a record for AdvaMed. The three-day convention ends Wednesday.

Hannigan said she was grateful not only to be able to walk with the device, but to show off the technology to others at the trade show. “It gives me the freedom to go wherever I want to go by myself, even something like visiting my mother,” she said.

She said her next mission will be walking in a 1-mile road race on Oct. 20 to raise money for the Hope for the Warriors organization, which helps military personnel.

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