x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Research labs 'must do more to stem Middle East brain drain'

The brilliant ones will go to a lab abroad 'if the opportunities are not here', says Dubai Healthcare City managing director.

DUBAI // Centres like DuBiotech are leading the way in the provision of advanced research laboratories, but more needs to be done in the Middle East to provide opportunities for young scientists.

This is the view of Dr Ayesha Abdullah, the managing director of Dubai Healthcare City, who said the region risked losing its best scientific minds if it did not take action now. "In this part of the world we don't really have an intensive research infrastructure, research is not at the forefront," she said.

"Science really offers boundless possibilities for the region because we have a lot of scientists coming out of universities and the question is, how do we channel these resources and made the graduates productive members of society?"

Dr Abdullah was speaking after a life sciences workshop in Dubai that attracted scientists from across the region and beyond.

Dubai Healthcare City and the American Association for the Advancement of Science co-hosted the event, the latest in a series that has included similar gatherings in Jordan, Kuwait and Tunisia.

"One of the things that came up was: how do we find jobs for science graduates?" Dr Abdullah said. "If you're a scientist and you have obtained a PhD or a postdoc abroad and you come back to the region, or you've studied in the region, where do you go? They can't all become university professors.

"For the brilliant ones there is a brain drain, because they'll go to a lab abroad if the opportunities are not here. It's really a question of finding an outlet for regional scientists and providing them with the environment and infrastructure they need."

She said projects such as the DuBiotech life sciences park and Dubai Healthcare City were at the forefront of providing solutions to this problem. "The labs at DuBiotech's Nucleotide Laboratory Complex are very, very advanced in terms of the technical facilities. The government has invested to bring in scientists, make them engage and grow the research culture."

Marwan Abdulaziz, the director of business development at DuBiotech, said increased opportunities for researchers could emerge in the UAE and elsewhere following a change of focus by pharmaceutical companies.

"The big companies that have been in the region for 20 or 30 years have reached a point where they don't only want to do sales and marketing here," he said. "They also want to explore the region and understand and customise their products.

"All these companies used to consider Europe and the US as their only big markets. But after the financial crisis in Europe and the US they are looking at the Middle East in a very different way."

He said the companies had realised that the only way they could come up with innovative products and medicines that would suit the region was by carrying out research and scientific work here.

"So there is a shift in the way scientific research will be conducted in the region," he said. "I think this started at the beginning of last year and we will probably be seeing some fruits of it by the end of this year." He added that other areas where opportunities could arise for researchers included agriculture and food.

csimpson@thenational.ae