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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Dubai seeks to attract $2.5bn to pharmaceutical sector as part of 2030 industrial strategy

Emirate wants more local production of drugs

Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi the chairing member of the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment Task force of the Dubai Industrial Strategy. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi the chairing member of the Pharmaceuticals and Medical Equipment Task force of the Dubai Industrial Strategy. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Dubai expects to attract US$2.5 billion in investments to the pharmaceutical industry over the next five year as it ramps up efforts to court international players to open up factories in the emirate, which is pursuing a new 2030 industrial strategy, a senior official has said.

The emirate unveiled the strategy last year that will target adding Dh160bn to its GDP and creating 27,000 specialised jobs by developing six industrial sectors: aerospace; maritime; pharmaceuticals; medical equipment; aluminium and fabricated metals; food and beverages; and machinery and equipment.

“Existing companies are doing a little bit of the expansion … but the majority of companies we are talking to are new entrants,” said Marwan Janahi, the chairing member of the pharmaceuticals and medical equipment task force of the Dubai Industrial Strategy.

There are two pharmaceutical companies constructing facilities in Dubai and there are several more expected to set up shop in the emirate, he added.

The UAE’s pharmaceutical sales are forecast to grow to $3.84bn by 2021 from $2.62bn in 2016, according to BMI research, a unit of the Fitch group. Pharmaceuticals represented 16.2 per cent of total healthcare spending last year and are projected to represent 18 per cent of healthcare expenditure by 2021.

Mena's pharmaceutical expenditure is projected to increase to $33.4bn in 2017, up from $32.2bn last year, according to BMI.

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Nearly 90 per cent of pharmaceuticals in the UAE are imports and 60 per cent of those are generic drugs, presenting ample opportunities for boosting local production, according to Mr Janahi.

“We have the capacity to do it, we have the knowledge and we have access to a large market, which makes it more feasible,” he said.

With the prevalence of lifestyle diseases in the UAE, locally-made generics have a market to treat, for example, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The task force has a three-phase strategy of attracting companies in the short-term, medium-term and long-term.

For the short-term, the task force hopes to woo companies to produce “low-hanging fruits”, including food supplements such as vitamins and super generics, which are generic products used in different mediums.

For the medium term, the task force is keen to court companies to produce blood plasma, which is used in operations, and 3D printing of body parts such as bones and artificial organs.

The task force is talking with the Ministry of Health to help amend the regulations that are needed to import more blood plasma into the UAE, said Mr Janahi.

For the long term, the task force wants to attract companies to produce cancer drugs in collaboration with hospitals, universities and research and development centres.

“We are trying to create an export agency to help facilitate exports,” said Mr Janahi. “There is a large market around the UAE [for these products].”

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) plans to open a manufacturing facility in the UAE next year as the UK’s biggest drug-maker seeks to boost its sales in the region, the company’s GCC head said in September.

GSK, behind medicines such as Panadol and Augmentin, plans to manufacture three as yet undetermined drugs at the new facility in the UAE, said Andrew Miles, the general manager for GSK in the Arabian Gulf region.