MENA PHARMA: USD50 BILLION BY 2025

Dubai 2020 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Joe Henein, CEO of New Bridge Pharmaceuticals, on the global pharmaceuticals market, innovation, and the perception of the GCC market for overseas investors.

What is your assessment of the pharma market in Dubai and the MENA region?

The pharma market in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region is estimated roughly around USD32 billion. Analysts expect the pharmaceutical market in MENA region to grow to around USD50 billion by 2025. The U.A.E. will lead this growth among other countries during this period, like Egypt and North Africa. MENA is one of the fastest growing emerging markets, driven mainly by sizeable population growth, increased life expectancy, greater prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, and greater prioritization of healthcare services among governments in the region such as mandatory health insurance in GCC or increased national health coverage in Egypt. More than 60% of medicines are imported mostly innovative medicines that come from multinationals, while local and regional companies market share is growing steadily, covering mostly the generic alternatives of medicines that come off-patent. There are more than 350 million people in this region, almost similar in population to USA. However, region has a widespread income per capita among its countries, and far less spending per capita on pharmaceuticals than western countries. The global pharma market is estimated to be over 1 trillion dollars, with the US and China the two largest. MENA only represent little less than 2% market share of the global pharma spending. The region also has dominant health issues with diseases of very high prevalence in the world, like diabetes, hepatitis C, thalassemia, and sickle cell diseases, in addition to some other genetic diseases resulting from intermarriage within families.

What is the main inhibitor to growth of the pharma market in the region?

The pharma industry like any other, gets affected by the prevailing macroeconomics such as oil prices, for example the drop in oil prices in 2016 and 2017 led to a slowdown in public sector growth and heightened pressure on drug prices. Also, geopolitical factors play a key role in preventing the region to reach its full potential because of the many political conflicts, wars, and sanctioned countries. However, the biggest impediment to growth is access to medicines, as mentioned above, the region has a sizable population which is growing but also in age, with many high prevalent diseases, so access to adequate and maybe newer treatment modalities is key. However, and unfortunately, we still see many patients' payout of their pockets and number of countries in the region unable to provide necessary coverage to all these patients.

What new innovations are entering the pharma industry?

We are seeing a very promising signals in the scientific community that can't be ignored. The rise in precision medicine following accurate genomic sequencing heralds a new era of R&D success. As one of the scientists described it recently as “Tsunami of Innovation” coming our way in next few years. We started to see a slew of breakthroughs in treatment of diseases like Hepatitis C which may eradicate it in the next 15 years, Ebola, Malaria and some of these notorious infectious diseases with very high morbidity & mortality rates. Meanwhile, an emerging class of biologicals called checkpoint inhibitors harness the power of a patient's immune system to extend survival versus traditional therapies in a variety of cancers. Gene therapy, which only a few years ago would be just a dream, is now becoming a reality and more to come. These advances are big deal and prompted hope of an era of new treatments and maybe cure to a wide spectrum of diseases that we still face.

What opportunities do you currently see in emerging markets?

Few years ago and when I was the Head of Wyeth MENA, my company then among many pharma companies looked East seeking growth and respite from market uncertainty in Europe and the United States and labeled Emerging Markets “Accelerated Growth Opportunity” and MENA was one of them. Many companies then shifted its focus on these markets, as they found consumers able to afford largely out-of-pocket spending on its drugs. Soon thereafter some of these emerging markets went from boom to bust, and many suffered downturns or showed weaker growth forecasts, and many healthcare systems struggled to scale up adequately to provide needed care to its patients. Accordingly, this sentiment by pharma companies didn't last long, and meanwhile USA and “big five” EU countries started to do better with many new products got approved, became available and hence attracted the attention back again to the developed economies. Analysts expect it will be a cycle that will return with strong growth expected to have revenue doubled in the next 10 years in key strategic emerging markets.

Many companies neglect this market. Is that an opportunity for you?

They do not so much neglect it but rather pursue other priorities. It is expensive and challenging to enter a new market. Most of these innovations I talked about come from small to medium size biotech companies, and if they are not acquired by big pharma, they definitely want to focus on USA, large European countries, China, Japan and probably will seek to outsource rest of the regions in the world including emerging markets. Yes for sure, this will be our opportunity, it was for this exact purpose and main reason behind creating NewBridge, looking into the white space and developing a regional platform bridging innovation from west to east and hence make NewBridge the partner of choice for innovative medicines in MENA.