Country Report: UAE - Pharmaceutical Executive


Country Report: UAE

Pharmaceutical Executive


Paolo Carli, head of Middle East, KSA & Egypt for Merck Serono
There are not many countries in the world where the government aims to develop a role model type of healthcare system not only for its own people, but also to attract medical tourists whose healthcare options back home are more limited. Following their success in turning the UAE into a financial, retail and tourist hub, Emirati authorities have made clear their intentions to transform the country into a preferred destination for world-class medical services.

In fact, the UAE was the first country out of the Americas to have a hospital accredited by the Joint Commission International when the American Hospital Dubai opened its doors in mid 2000. Since then the hospital has been re-accredited an additional four times, the latest being in 2012. In the meantime, other first-class hospitals are being built in partnership with some of the world's most respected healthcare providers, including Mayo and Cleveland Clinics. Even public hospitals in the UAE will surpass global standards, with the announcement in May that Dubai's main public healthcare institution, Rashid Hospital, will undergo a facelift costing more than US$800 million.

Similar colossal investment plans for hospital infrastructure are underway in other countries in the region, notably KSA who in 2011 announced its intention to construct 121 hospitals over a five-year period. "The plan for the region by 2020 is to add almost 100,000 beds, which is the number needed to match the international standards of beds per number of people. If by that year we reach the numbers that are forecasted, the standards will certainly rise", deduces Jihad Hussami, managing director of Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa for Hill-Rom.

Samer Al Hallaq, president of Gulf for AstraZeneca
As a specialist in hospital beds, furniture and interiors, Hill-Rom has been tailoring its product offering to the Middle East's discerning taste for luxury. "Even the aesthetics, such as the interior, are very important in this region. Most of the newly built hospitals requested VIP rooms, which is where we have played a role as well. Certain Hill-Rom bed units are designed for the patient not to feel as if they are in a hospital. All the equipment needed for the patient is concealed, since comfort is associated with healing benefits. It is a win-win situation for the hospital management to have the best design and for the patient to heal faster", elucidates Hussami.

Nevertheless, Siemens Healthcare's CEO for the Middle East, Waclaw Lukowicz, counters that "it's relatively easy to build a hospital; it will take two years to get the bricks and mortar and even outfit it with the latest equipment. On the other hand it will take between 10-15 years to train the necessary staff to run such a hospital. When I sit with some of the ministries we do exchange best practices on how to address this issue, because clearly the pool of local talent that is specialized in those requirements is not very large. It's really a big challenge to do it and to get the right skill set. This is why we are sitting down to have these discussions with authorities in all countries."

"In Saudi Arabia, for example, we have hired local engineers and then trained them at one of our global excellence centers. Sure this is a challenge, and there is no magical solution for it, but it is also something that governments ­understand. This is a very encouraging sign and they realize that it is a key to their success. Nevertheless, it is something that will take many years", opines Lukowicz.

Indeed the lack of local talent is a challenge cited by both healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. The reality is that the UAE and wider region are deficient of healthcare practitioners and educational institutions that can train future generations in this field. Until now they have been relying on imported international talent by offering attractive salaries and benefits beyond what healthcare practitioners can expect in their home markets.

Founder of the healthcare conglomerate, the NMC Group, BR Shetty is an Indian national who arrived in Dubai in 1973 and set up a one-room clinic out of his apartment. Today he is ranked one of the GCC top Indian billionaires owed to his chain of hospitals and pharmaceutical distribution business. As an innate visionary, his next plan is to provide more opportunities for medical education in the UAE.

Karim El-Alaoui, managing director of MENA for Boehringer Ingelheim
"The NMC group has gone initially from a pharmacy to hospital and pharmaceutical distribution, to a manufacturing factory, and with the inclusion of R&D, it equals one circle. On the healthcare end, I have started a clinic, a medical center, a hospital, specialty hospitals, and now the only element lacking is health education. Hence, I am intending to open a medical college in Abu Dhabi in collaboration with Duke University. It will focus on translational research, with a center for entrepreneurship and innovation on one integrated campus. The aim is to incorporate informatics and IT in order to advance our healthcare systems and life sciences. This endeavor will be my dream come true, since it is the final missing link to complete the cycle."

Shetty's pharmaceutical manufacturer, Neopharma, is also setting precedents by establishing the first partnership with a multinational company to manufacture one of their products locally. Earlier this year the company signed an agreement with Merck Serono to begin packaging two of their products by the end of 2013, with a longer term plan involving full production and a transfer of technology to Neopharma.

Dubai Health Authoriy's director of pharmaceutical services, Ali Al Sayed, believes that "the increased presence of international pharmaceutical companies is raising the prospect of research and trials to be conducted locally. This is now one of our priorities. We are encouraging the ­companies to do trials, to conduct research here. This is one of the reasons many multinational companies moved their offices to Dubai. This city is becoming a hub for medicines and soon we expect companies to research and manufacture their own products here to then export them to other countries."

Most multinational companies sustain these convictions given that they see localization as an integral part of the industry's progression in the region. Takeda's Platford goes as far as expressing that "there are some countries in the region where the localization is fundamental. In those cases acquisitions can make sense to establish a local footprint. It helps in terms of access and it shows sustainable growth in that country." Many predict that the market will be growing through local manufacturing alliances, some of which we are already witnessing in markets like Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the Middle East will become a logistics hub for the global industry, serving not only the immediate region but also Asia and Africa. Dubai is certainly well-positioned to fulfill this role as it is geographically very strategically located.

Manufacturing Agreement Signing Ceremony – Dr BR Shetty, Managing Director and CEO of Neophama, and Dr Stefan Oschmann, CEO of Merck Serono
The newest trend amongst local manufacturers is to invest in R&D, with some even venturing into biotechnology. UAE leader Julphar is already producing recombinant insulin and is the first Middle East company to successfully ­manufacture and export a biotech product. Similarly, Neopharma already has partnerships with Hetero Pharmaceuticals and Biocon. Even smaller generic manufacturers are experiencing unprecedented growth that has allowed them to expand their operations and diversify their manufacturing activities. While times are visibly propitious for the local industry there are still some growing pains ahead for the UAE and wider Middle East region.


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Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
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