Healthy approach to niche market
AMMAN // Fadi Al Atrash seemed destined for the pharmaceutical sector from a young age.
After all, his grandfather, father and brother worked in the industry, and when he was just 12, Mr Al Atrash's father launched Amman Pharmaceutical Industries.
The business specialises in producing "niche" medicines, such as eye and nose drops, and started out in 1989 with about 30 employees and just 200,000 Jordanian dinars (Dh1 million) of annual revenue.
Since then the company has grown, along with Jordan's overall healthcare sector, and Amman Pharmaceutical now sells medicines throughout the Middle East and Africa (Mea), including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria and Sudan. It also has more than 220 employees and generated almost US$15m (Dh55m) of revenue last year, says Mr Al Atrash, the company's deputy general manager.
"My plan is to stay specialised in niche products, add new lines of production [and] maybe penetrate the European market," he says.
As Jordan's intellectual-property environment has improved over the past decade, and the country has attracted outside investment by establishing international trade agreements, its medical market has grown rapidly.
Analysts say Jordan has one of the best-established and most advanced healthcare sectors in the Mea region. The country's healthcare sector is forecast to expand to $2.68 billion of revenue this year, up 9.5 per cent from last year - the highest annual increase since 2008, according to the market research firm Business Monitor International (BMI).
Jordan's government spending on medical infrastructure has helped to spur this sector's development. Across the Middle East, governments spend an average of 5 per cent of their GDP on health care, while Jordan spends 9.3 per cent, according to data from the consultancy Booz & Company.
Organic growth of local companies has also helped.
Hikma Pharmaceuticals, a medicine maker, reported sales of $394.8m for the first half of last year, the latest figures released. Some of the company's portfolio of pills and ointments can be found in the many pharmacies in and around the Firas Circle area in the capital, Amman.
One outlet in particular stands out from the pack in this bustling district - Pharmacy 1, part of the country's largest chain, which comprises 53 pharmacies. All told, there are about 1,800 pharmacies across the country.
Meanwhile, Jordan's strong network of private hospitals, archeological attractions such as Petra and Jerash, and its relative political stability compared with some neighbouring countries has attracted medical tourists.
In 2010, the country was ranked by the World Bank at number five in its list of top medical tourism destinations globally. This sub-sector alone accounted for 4 per cent of Jordan's overall GDP.
"Quite amazing," says Daniel Rosen, an analyst at BMI and the head of the company's pharmaceuticals and healthcare coverage for Mea. "I don't think there's any other country that can say that within the region."
Yet market changes have put pressure on this sector lately.
Mr Rosen warns that Jordan's medical tourism market shrank by about 25 per cent last year because of unrest in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.
The unrest also disrupted sales for some medicine makers, including Amman Pharmaceutical, which reported that its revenue fell by almost 20 per cent after it temporarily halted exports to Libya.
"That was challenging to compensate from other markets," says Mr Al Atrash, who turned his attention to boosting sales to northern Iraq, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt.
A rise in spending on hospital construction by governments in the GCC is also shifting dynamics in the region.
"With all these new private hospitals being built in the GCC states, the Jordanian hospitals will now have to compete against them as well," says Mr Rosen.
But companies in Jordan's healthcare sector are generally upbeat about their prospects - and the industry is rolling out initiatives to spur growth.
This year, Jordan is hosting two major international health exhibitions while promoting its popular Dead Sea destinations for medical tourism, according to the consultancy Oxford Business Group.
Some boutique businesses have also cropped up to take advantage of the growth in this space.
RxSolutions, whose slogan is "spreading a healthy change to the industry", is a speciality marketing and communications agency that was launched in 2009 and focuses solely on the medical market.
"The idea behind it is that the healthcare sector is a very sensitive market," says Mais Sukkar, the company's managing director. "In a lot of countries in the Middle East, there are rules and regulations that have to be followed in terms of the marketing efforts."
RxSolutions was exhibiting in Dubai last month during the Arab Health exhibition, as was another company based in Jordan - Kilani Medical, which produces a range of syringes.
In addition to travelling to regional events to expand their operations and contacts, business owners from Jordan's healthcare sector have also tapped some local resources.
Mr Al Atrash and Amjad Aryan, who founded Pharmacy 1, are part of a global network of so-called high-impact entrepreneurs in an organisation called Endeavor Jordan. The group, which has offices in several countries, links entrepreneurs with high-level contacts to help them with various growth strategies, whether expanding into new markets or making domestic acquisitions.
"The healthcare sector is something that we're very aware of as particularly strong in Jordan," says Catherine Halaby, who oversees entrepreneur services at Endeavor Jordan's office in Amman.
For Mr Al Atrash, transforming his private business into a public one is a possibility he is now entertaining.
"If we attract a strategic partner," he says, "it's an option."
Updated: February 28, 2012 04:00 AM