Eli Hurvitz, the one-time laboratory dishwasher who transformed Teva Pharmaceutical Industries from a small Israeli medical company into the world's largest generic drug maker, has died. He was 79.
The company said he died on Monday but gave no details on a cause of death.
Hurvitz was born in Jerusalem, where he studied economics at The Hebrew University, and got his start in pharmaceuticals washing dishes in the laboratory of one of the three drug manufacturers that eventually merged to form Teva.
With Hurvitz at the helm between 1976 and 2002, the company embarked upon an aggressive program of expansion that included acquisitions around the globe and patent challenges.
Its takeover of Ivax Corp. in 2005 and Barr Pharmaceuticals in 2008 for some $7.4 billion each were the biggest takeovers by an Israeli company and cemented Teva's position as the world's largest producer of generic drugs.
The company also branched out into developing branded drugs, including Copaxone, developed in Israel for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. It also has a patent on Azilect, a treatment for Parkinson's disease.
Under his stewardship, the company went from sales in the millions of dollars to $16.1 billion in 2010. It is the largest company on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and a widely held Israeli share on Nasdaq Stock Market, with a market value of some $36 billion.
From 2002 to 2010, he was Teva's chairman of the board, retiring because of an undisclosed illness. Israeli media have reported that he was diagnosed with cancer.
"Today, we mourn the loss of a true pioneer, whose vision of providing access to affordable medicine has helped improve the lives of people around the world," Shlomo Yanai, Teva's president and CEO said in a statement.
Aside from his duties at Teva, Hurvitz served as president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel and as chairman of Bank Leumi. From 2002 to 2008, he was chairman of the Israeli Democracy Institute.
In 2002, he received the prestigious Israel Prize for lifetime achievements.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement mourning Hurvitz as "one of the greatest Israeli industrialists."
Hurvitz is survived by his wife, Dalia, and three children. Funeral arrangements were not announced.