We at the Association for Accessible Medicines are proud of our rich heritage. The pioneers who forged our industry deserve to be heralded. Some are still with us; some are gone. Please keep reading about them and their contributions to society.
He came into my office with the Orange Book in hand and said, 'We’re going to make a generic for every product in this book.'
The 1970s was a period of consolidation in the Israeli pharmaceutical industry. Among the more notable mergers was the 1976 combination of Zori, Assia Chemical Labs and Teva Middle East Pharmaceutical Chemical Works to form Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. Driving the deal was 44-year-old Eli Hurvitz, an ambitious industrialist with exceptional business acumen who served as president and chief executive of the new company for the next 26 years.
To say Hurvitz was a gifted visionary would be an understatement. When the 1984 Hatch-Waxman Act instituted an abbreviated regulatory process for approving generic drugs here in the U.S., Hurvitz jumped on the opportunity to expand his company’s Middle East footprint to America. Wasting no time, he formed a joint venture with W.R. Grace to acquire Pennsylvania-based Lemmon Pharmacal Company and then bought out Grace’s share to create Teva (Hebrew for
nature) Pharmaceuticals USA.
Bill Fletcher, who was chosen to head up the North America business, said Hurvitz saw the tremendous potential for generics in the U.S. but believed the young industry was too fragmented.
Eli was incredibly strategic, Fletcher told me,
and he understood that consolidation would be key to growth and sustainability. So over the next 10 years, Hurvitz orchestrated a string of acquisitions that landed Teva atop the list of the world’s largest generic pharmaceutical companies.
Carole Ben-Maimon, president and CEO of Larimar Therapeutics, worked for Hurvitz in the 1990s and recalls his eagerness to penetrate the U.S. market.
I will never forget the day Eli came into my office with the Orange Book in hand and said, 'Carole, we are going to make a generic for every product in this book.' I said, 'Eli, that’s impossible!' Little did I know then what the future held for Teva and the U.S. generic industry. But I’m quite sure Eli knew.
Hurvitz was a natural and brilliant strategist who played a major role in building the U.S. generic pharmaceutical industry, said George Barrett, past chairman and chief executive of Cardinal Health and a former CEO of Teva North America. Barrett said that what set Hurvitz apart from many of his peers was his instinctive capacity to see the connections others might not recognize.
Eli had a tremendous ability to distinguish the essential from the inconsequential and he understood the enormous potential for generic drugs to play a major role in health care systems across the globe.
Hurvitz began his career as a dishwasher in the laboratory of Assia Chemical.
He could have had a desk job with an office, a colleague said,
but he chose cleaning test tubes and beakers in the lab because he wanted to learn the business from the ground up. Hurvitz quickly advanced through the corporate chain of command, developing a highly respected reputation for possessing superb organizational skills and adept leadership abilities.
But beyond his remarkable success in business—he was named
Business Leader of the Decade by Dun & Bradstreet in 2005—Hurvitz is remembered as a friend, a teacher and a beloved mentor. Ben-Maimon said he was always
warm and welcoming, eager to share his wise counsel with younger colleagues. Barrett recalls how much Hurvitz cherished everyday activities.
I have vivid memories of riding with Eli to board meetings. In spite of being one of the most important figures in all of Israel, he never hesitated to stop at a roadside falafel stand so we could visit and enjoy the delicacies. And Fletcher called Hurvitz a charming, sophisticated, completely down-to-earth guy who believed that strategic planning is more productive if done over deli pastrami.
Eli was as interested in talking to workers on the packaging line as he was discussing music and food over a memorable curry with friends Zubin Mehta and Itzhak Perlman.
You would think building a global pharmaceutical company would be enough. But like so many of the industry pioneers we have featured in these blogs, Eli Hurvitz made time to engage in other causes. He served as chairman of the Israel Export Institute in the late 1970s; was president of the Israel Manufacturers Association for five years in the 1980s; headed up Israel President Shimon Peres’ economic plan to lower inflation in 1985; chaired the board of Bank Leumi in 1986; from 1989 to 1992 chaired the Jerusalem Development Authority; was on the Advisory Committee of the Bank of Israel from 1991 to 1995; served as executive committee chairman of the Weizmann Institute of Science from 1989 to 1995; was appointed to the board of governors of Tel Aviv University in 2001; and became chair of the Israel Democracy Institute in 2002. For his many contributions to Israeli culture and society, the State of Israel bestowed upon Hurvitz the Israel Prize, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Eliyahu (Eli) Hurvitz was born in Jerusalem in 1932. At age 16, he was drafted by the Israel Defense Forces to fight in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Hurwitz studied economics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in the years that followed received numerous honorary degrees, including doctorates from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology (1990), the Weizmann Institute of Science (1994), Ben-Gurion University (2002), and Tel Aviv University (2004). From 2002 until his death in 2011, Hurvitz served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, the company he created nearly four decades earlier.
For his lifetime commitment to affordable medicine and his lasting impact on our industry, we say
Thank you, Eli Hurvitz.
[The author thanks George Barrett, Carole Ben-Maimon and Bill Fletcher for contributing to this article. Mr. Barrett and Dr. Ben-Maimon are former chairs of the AAM Board of Directors.]
By Bob Billings. Active in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 25 years, Bob held various positions at the Generic Pharmaceutical Association (now the Association for Accessible Medicines) from 2007 through June 2015, including Interim President and Executive Director. | Published on July 1, 2021
Read more from our series on the founders of generic medicines
- Jean Hoffman
- Mike Puskar
- Rep. Henry Waxman
- Carole Ben-Maimon
- Desh Bandhu Gupta
- Agnes Varis
- Bill Haddad