THE GENE GENIE

Dubai 2020 | HEALTH | FOCUS

Dubai has high aspirations as an increasingly smart city and regional epicenter of high-tech advances. This extends to the healthcare industry, where a fierce race is on to advance the pharmaceutical industry—globally worth USD1 trillion—from R&D and production to patient. Radical gene therapies, though expensive today, will in due course become more widely available. It transpires that Dubai researchers at the Mohammed bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health complete the first full genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2, the strain of coronavirus that causes COVID-19. This will allow researchers to better understand mutations and spread of the virus, track various strains, and contribute to developing treatments and a potential vaccine. Research is also well under way to explore certain strains that might be more deadly and any effect of human genetics on the virus.

Healthy Thinking
There is no denying that the UAE, like its neighbors, is blighted by lifestyle consequences such as obesity and its attendant outcomes, such as diabetes and heart disease. This has prompted the government to promote healthier living. Yet, the Emirate is pursuing a wide-ranging health vision—launched in January 2016—in addition to that of the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHP). The Dubai Health Strategy 2021 is its roadmap for hitting medical care quality targets, fostering a culture of early detection, and honing the climate for R&D and advanced medical knowledge exchange among both the public and private sectors.

Sugaring the Pill
Healthcare spending is forecast to skyrocket by a CAGR of 9.5% through 2025. It figures, then, that the pharmacological component is vital; indeed, the UAE hopes to welcome over 70 leading pharmaceutical producers by the time its vision reaches its concluding year. Certainly, the potential remains considerable for the well-located sector player.
Joe Henein is the CEO of Dubai-based NewBridge Pharmaceuticals. In conversation with TBY, he shared some staggering numbers on MENA's pharma market, today worth an estimated USD32 billion. For one, that number is forecast to scale to USD50 billion by 2025, fueled by population growth and improved life expectancy, and on a less welcome level, those stubborn lifestyle-related diseases. A number Dubai wants to reverse is the 60% import rate of medicines. Additionally, incentives for local innovation are geared at diversifying the product range of local manufacturers, which has predominantly focused on generic alternatives. The market share is already on an incline. For Henein, the clue's in the name, as his company is, “…developing a regional platform, bridging innovation from west to east [with] NewBridge the partner of choice for innovative medicines in MENA."

Dubai's Myriad Advantages…
…begin with its ability to capture the interest of key figures, corporates, and institutions keen to leverage its ideal regional hub status. With a presence in Dubai, Novartis operates at the forefront of cell and gene therapy. In a TBY interview, Georg Schroeckenfuchs, Novartis' President of Middle East and Head of MENA Cluster, highlighted the, “strong synergies between Dubai's ambitions of becoming a hub for healthcare and its vision to introduce global best practices in healthcare management [which chime with] our commitment to delivering innovations across multiple therapeutic areas."
Meanwhile, in 2019, Dubai reportedly pioneered track-and-trace for pharmaceuticals in the UAE. This serialization initiative will enable thorough monitoring of medications, both locally manufactured and imported, to safeguard against counterfeit drugs, as well as ensure adequate national stocks. Finally, on June 15-16 Dubai played host to the Molecular Medicine and Diagnostics Conference, an event symptomatic of its commitment to the information exchange that advances pharmaceuticals from paper to pill.