What is your assessment of the pharma market in Dubai and the MENA region?
The pharma market in MENA is currently estimated at roughly USD32 billion and analysts expect it to grow to USD50 billion by 2025. The UAE will lead this growth with countries like Egypt. MENA is one of the fastest-growing emerging markets, driven mainly by sizable population growth, increased life expectancy, greater prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes, and greater prioritization of healthcare services among the region's governments. More than 60% of medicines are imported, while local and regional companies' market share is growing steadily, covering mostly generic alternatives of medicines that come off-patent. There are more than 350 million people in this region, almost equal to the US' population. However, the region has widespread income inequality and far less spending per capita on pharmaceuticals than western countries. The global pharma market is estimated to be over USD1 trillion, with the US and China being the two largest, respectively. Meanwhile, MENA represents little less than 2% market share of global pharma spending. The region's dominant health issues are diabetes, hepatitis C, thalassemia, and sickle cell, in addition to other genetic diseases.
What is the main inhibitor of growth of the pharma market in the region?
The pharma industry is affected by prevailing macroeconomics; 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. In addition, geopolitical factors play a key role in preventing the region from reaching its full potential. Still, the biggest impediment to growth is access to medicine. The region has a sizable population that is growing, also in age, with many highly prevalent diseases, so access to adequate and newer treatment modalities is key. However, and unfortunately, we still see many patients pay out of pocket, with a number of countries in the region unable to provide necessary coverage to all these patients.
What opportunities do you see in emerging markets?
When I was the head of Wyeth MENA, my company, like other pharma companies, looked east, seeking growth and respite from market uncertainty in Europe and the US. We labeled emerging markets as an “accelerated growth opportunity," MENA being one of them. Many companies shifted their focus to 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. Many healthcare systems struggled to scale up adequately to provide needed care to its patients. Accordingly, this hopeful sentiment by pharma companies did not last long, while the US and EU countries started to do better, as many new products got approved, became available, and attracted attention back to the developed economies. Analysts expect this cycle to return, with strong growth expected to double revenue 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 as 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-sized biotech companies, and if they are not acquired by big pharma, they definitely want to focus on the US, large European countries, China, and Japan, and will probably seek to outsource the rest of the regions in the world, including emerging markets. These markets will be our opportunity, as it was for this purpose that NewBridge was created. We are looking into the space and developing a regional platform, bridging innovation from west to east and hence making NewBridge the partner of choice for innovative medicines in MENA.