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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Cancer drug demand is curtailing antibiotic development, pharma companies say

The UAE pharmaceutical market is forecast to grow from under Dh10 billion last year to over Dh14bn by 2021 but not enough work is aimed at developing new antibiotics

The huge demand for oncology drugs is to the detriment of antibiotic development, pharmaceutical companies say. AFP
The huge demand for oncology drugs is to the detriment of antibiotic development, pharmaceutical companies say. AFP

The demand for cancer drugs has diverted attention away from the increasing need for further development of new antibiotics capable of killing off drug-resistant bacteria.

Major drug companies speaking on the sidelines of a GCC pharmaco economics forum hosted by the Ministry of Health and Prevention, said the needs of oncology patients are such that it puts immediate pressure on supply.

“There is huge demand for oncology drugs, so there is more focus in that area,” said Jean-Paul Scheuer, general manager for Sanofi Gul.

“We have an extended programme of antibiotics development but the development of new drugs is still a major consideration.

“One of the main issues around antibiotics is their over-use, which has led to an anti-microbial resistance to some of the drugs that have been used for many years.

“There should be wider control, and we know campaigns to improve this is ongoing here in the UAE and elsewhere.

“We know patients are developing resistance to some treatments but the needs of oncology development are huge.”

A recent report by the World Health Organisation into global antibacterial developments found few new drugs in production that would be effective to help doctors fight infections.

Just two new classes of antibiotics have become available in the past 30 years, with many drug companies choosing to invest in other more profitable areas.

Last year, the UAE pharmaceutical market was worth Dh9.61 billion, representing 16 per cent of total healthcare investment.

Growth in pharmaceuticals is expected to rise to Dh14.11bn by 2021.

The number of pharmaceutical facilities in the UAE supporting the growing demand for medicines will almost double by 2020.

Scientific offices are expected to increase from 47 this year to 75 in 2020, while manufacturing sites will increase from 18 to 36.

There are currently 11,459 licensed pharmacists in the UAE, and a total of 2,481 registered pharmacies.

“We have 18 sites of production, and some of them are expanding to produce antibiotics for the market,” said Dr Amin Hussain Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing at the ministry.

“It is important we are in a position to cover different types of medicines in different dosages. One of the factories will soon be producing oncology line medicine.

“There are three factories that are trying to produce close to 24 different types of medicines that are being discontinued worldwide.

“Some are for antibiotics and for cancer, others are helping to treat cardiovascular disease.

“We have encouraged these factories to produce medicines that are in short supply, here in the UAE, and to supply the wider region.”