The UAE is primed to become a powerhouse of medical research and innovation on the international stage and could lead the way in new developing new vaccines against deadly diseases, a leading US health expert has said.
One year on from a £1 billion ($1.38bn) UAE investment deal into Britain’s life sciences industry, the focus has shifted to the emerging ambitions of the Emirates to compete on the global stage.
In 2021, Abu Dhabi doubled its capabilities to develop scientific and clinical research.
More research projects were conducted in 2021 than in the previous five years by the Department of Health Abu Dhabi.
Peter Pitts, a former FDA associate commissioner and president of the Centre for Medicine in the Public Interest, a New York-based non-profit think tank, said it showed the UAE is an emerging force in the area of biopharmaceuticals.
“I can see the Emirates becoming not just a regional hub for this kind of research, but an international centre,” he said.
“The UAE has shown it can provide universities, hospitals and research facilities at efficient prices in a thriving, growing region — so it can become a life science centre for the world, not just the Gulf.
“It is not just a concept, and major companies will go where opportunities exist.
“By conducting trials and developmental science, the UAE could become the intellectual capital of the region, so there is a real opportunity here.”
The Department of Health's Research Registry for Covid-19, established as a unified platform to support global R&D efforts to combat the virus, received more than 376 scientific papers in 2021 and 67 Abu Dhabi facilities were licensed for healthcare research.
The UAE recorded a series of firsts during the pandemic in the area of life sciences as new Covid-19 drugs were fast-tracked.
Abu Dhabi was the first city in the world to receive the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)-made Sotrovimab, a monoclonal antibody treatment delivered through intravenous therapy.
The drug was used to keep those most at risk of developing serious illness from Covid-19 out of hospital.
It was also the first destination for AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, which generates antibodies for patients who have low immunity due to a medical condition or immunity conditions.
In addition, a strategic partnership was announced with Swiss drug maker Roche to adopt casirivimab and imdevimab for the prevention and treatment of mild to moderate Covid symptoms.
UAE to become vaccination production hub
The rapid development of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines that teach cells how to trigger an immune response proved one of the most successful breakthroughs during the pandemic, said Mr Pitts.
“This new mRNA technology will take us very far, very quickly in a huge variety of diseases not considered curable,” he said, on the sidelines of the Duphat pharmaceutical conference in Dubai.
“We are close to a HIV vaccine and certain types of cancers will also be eradicated through new vaccine technology.
“Once you have an mRNA vaccine facility, it is faster, safer and cheaper than other methods of vaccine production and it can be applied against a broader spectrum of diseases.
“The problem is retooling the entire vaccine industry and that is expensive and will take a long time.”
In April 2021, the UAE became the first Arab country to begin manufacturing a Covid-19 vaccine with Hayat-Vax, a joint collaboration between Sinopharm CNBG and Abu Dhabi’s G42.
Mr Pitt said the UAE is well placed to build on that to transform the country into a vaccination production hub.
That has created an opportunity for countries like the UAE that have not played a role in the vaccine industry before, which can create a vaccine facility from the ground up, he said.
“There is no reason why the UAE cannot become a global leader in vaccine technology.
“The health ecosystem here is predictable and has continuity of leadership. They can do it better and cheaper in the UAE than anywhere else.”