The Spanish drug maker Cinfa is the latest European firm to enter the UAE market.
New medicines for UAE
One of Spain's leading drug manufacturers has introduced three generic medicines to help fight some of the UAE's most prevalent diseases, amid government efforts to curb rising medical costs.
Cinfa produces generic and over-the-counter medicines besides orthopaedic and skincare products. It said it has launched two drugs for hypertension and one for high cholesterol in the Emirates.
All three are branded generics. Branded generic medicines are like generic drugs in that they contain the same active ingredients as the original medicine but are marketed with a brand, rather than simply the generic name.
Cinfa, a 44-year-old company that last year recorded €335 million (Dh1.61 billion) in sales, said it would launch a branded generic antibiotic in the UAE next month for lower respiratory tract infection and urinary infections that would cost 50 per cent less than the original.
"Nearly 40 per cent of the UAE population over 30 years of age has high blood pressure, and this statistic is likely to double to 50 to 60 per cent by 2025 according to the World Health Organization," said Dr Abdulmajeed Al Zubaidi, a consultant cardiologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City.
The UAE generic market is small and less popular than branded ones, even though the country has the highest annual per capita sales of medicine in the Arabian Gulf.
Cinfa will help to increase the Emirates' market share for generic drugs,which are significantly less expensive than the branded originals, said the company's president, Enrique Ordieres Sagarminaga.
Last year, the per capita sales of medicine in the UAE stood at US$282 (Dh1,035) compared with the GCC average of $208.
Total value of the UAE pharmaceutical market was estimated at $1.6bn last year, a rise of 3 per cent from $1.5bn in 2011, according to the investment bank Alpen Capital's GCC pharmaceutical sector report released last month.
Consumption of generic drugs is about 15 to 20 per cent of overall pharmaceutical sales in the UAE, according to the report. The GCC market for European-made pharmaceuticals is forecast to reach $10bn by 2020, the investment bank QNB Capital said recently. In February, the UAE Government announced a policy to cut the cost of more than 6,600 medicines by up to 40 per cent to check runaway medicine prices.
The price control was an effort to harmonise the local market with surrounding markets not characterised by high markups compared with the UAE.
"The policy will not affect us," said Khaled Amin, the regional director of Cinfa, based in Dubai.
Cinfa's foray into newer markets comes as sales in its home country are expected to fall.
Madrid-based lobbying group Farmaindustria said in 2011 it expected sales of Spanish drug manufacturers to have fallen by 15 per cent last year and to continue falling until 2015 because of the government's austerity measures.
The UAE has a high incidence of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
It ranks 11th globally in percentage of the population with diabetes and fifth regionally at almost 19 per cent, according to the Diabetes 2012 Atlas Update.
The Spanish drug maker has the Modern Pharmaceutical Company as its sole distributor in the UAE. Cinfa expects to enter other Gulf markets from the UAE.
Entry of a new generic player in the market will help increase the market share of the generic medicines, said Sanjay Vig, managing director of Alpen Capital.
"The generic segment is growing very rapidly and government is supportive to companies wanting to set up operations in the UAE," he said.
But the generic segment also faces some challenges.
"While the local manufacturers primarily focus on generic drugs, they have managed to capture only a small portion of the overall market share and the domestic manufacturers export a significant portion of their annual production to nearby non-GCC markets," Mr Vig said.
For Cinfa, it is too early to talk about a manufacturing or research and development facility in the UAE, Mr Sagarminaga said.
"We need a big market to build facilities [here] as we want to maintain high quality for affordable medicines," he said.
About 90 international pharmaceutical companies have a presence in the UAE, but only eight, including Julphar, Neopharma, Global Pharma and Medpharma, are the major domestic players, says Alpen Capital's report.