Dubai, UAE: “Healthcare is going to drive the next decade of growth,” stated Dr. Aaron Han, Chief Medical Officer at Alliance Care Technologies and Adjunct Professor at Mohamed bin Rashid University, at the 21st Advance Health forum at Dubai Science Park (DSP), a member of TECOM Group. Citing the pandemic as a catalysing factor, he elaborated the increase in funding available to research and focus on education were positioning healthcare as a key sector poised for impact.
The event convened key industry stakeholders, to explore the outlook of biotech innovation and research in the UAE. The topic took its cue from the UAE’s prioritisation of expanding the healthcare sector as part of the Centennial 2071 project launched by the Cabinet of the United Arab Emirates, which aims to establish the UAE as the best country in the world by 2071. The federal budget for 2022 allocated 8.09% (AED4.766 billion) to healthcare and community protection, boosting investment and opportunities within the sector.
Speakers headlining the session included Dr. Nadine Tarcha, Chief Medical Director, Gulf at Pfizer; Dr. Hemad Yasaei, Molecular Genetics and Genomics Consultant and Researcher at Dubai Genetics Center, Pathology and Genetics Department, Dubai Health Authority; and Dr. Aaron Han. The panel was chaired by Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, Managing Director of Dubai Science Park.
Welcoming the speakers and guests, Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi said, “The purpose of Advance Health is to bring our industry together to address challenging topics – interesting topics – and finding new solutions. Dubai Science Park business partners are expanding the dialogue and possibilities of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, treatments and more. Creating a space where this community can meet, engage, exchange experiences and propose new ideas is essential in laying the foundations for an impactful healthcare ecosystem that enhances the lives of UAE residents, the region and the world. Increasing biotech R&D is essential to the future of our sector and this session provides a platform to launch this conversation to a wider audience who can make actionable contributions.”
Predicting personalised healthcare
The insightful conversation investigated several factors that define the future of biotechnology innovation, from infrastructural needs to skilled talent and funding. A recurring theme underlying each of the speaker’s predictions was the emergence and importance of personalised medicine and diagnostics as healthcare ecosystems shift to patient-centric models.
Head of one of Dubai’s oldest government-funded diagnostic labs, Dr. Hemad Yasai shared how genomics – the study of a person’s genes – would contribute to the new structure. “Genomics is one of the multilayers that is going to transform medicine and make it more personalised.” Understanding each gene and its function can unlock how diseases come about, how they progress and how they can be treated across all stages of life., he explained.
Both speakers addressed that the individuality of each person’s genetic make-up made personalised drug development difficult. However, advancements in technology such as genome sequencing are making research increasingly affordable, and innovation would carry on the momentum.
The crux for cost-effective research is the availability of data, says Dr. Han, citing the phase, “Data is the new oil.” The development of a comprehensive genetic database will enable businesses to create medication and treatments that can provide the best possible outcome to larger populations, while increasing affordability in the long run.
Building an R&D hub in the Middle East
Dr. Nadia Tarcha discussed the landscape for R&D in the region and Pfizer Gulf’s contribution to the sector over 40 years. Along with localised distribution to enhance the availability of life-saving drugs in the region, she disclosed that Pfizer Gulf conducted 12 non-interventional studies and two clinical trials in the region in 2021, and was planning more than 32 launches across six therapeutic areas in 2022.
“It is one of our goals to attract clinical trials to the region,” Dr. Tarcha added, explaining that various factors depended on the success of hosting medical trials, including the prevalence of a disease, the availability of talent and the infrastructure in place. However, she commented that the situation is evolving, and the UAE is leading trials within the region. “It will help put the UAE on the map for clinical trials,” she predicted.
The speakers recognised the growing pool of talent contributing to research and development, spurred by government-led initiatives such as the Golden Visa to attract skilled professionals and students.
Emphasising the importance of informational exchange and community engagement, Dr. Aaron added, “Advance Health is a unique opportunity – even as we were sitting with the other speakers, we were talking about potential collaborations. It’s in this type of environment where we can explore possibilities; where we start getting out of our usual office space and what constitutes our formal titles, that’s when some of the value-add takes place.”
Dubai Science Park hosts the Advance Health sessions with the aim of promoting knowledge exchange, encouraging networking opportunities and improving patient outcomes in the UAE. The business district is heavily contributing to developing the emirate’s healthcare sector by nurturing a community that facilitates collaboration and innovation.
The forum was organised by Dubai Science Park in partnership with Synapse Medical Services, a healthcare administration company, and Connect Communications, a strategic healthcare communications agency.
For over two decades, TECOM Group has created strategically located and sustainable business ecosystems, including Dubai Science Park, which provide customers a vibrant environment to collaborate and thrive while cementing Dubai’s status as a global business and talent hub.