US pharmaceutical company Pfizer will train and support 150 Abu Dhabi scientists to conduct clinical research at the level required by multinational companies to produce effective medicines.
Patrick van der Loo, regional president of Pfizer Africa and the Middle East, said at an online conference on Tuesday that the programme will allow more access to clinical trials, and will be similar to what the company has done in Saudi Arabia.
“This ambition of health care as a key pillar of diversification of the economy is something we are seeing across the Gulf and elsewhere,” he said.
“Rather than just do one-off programmes or trials, we are better off providing structural collaborative support for the government of Abu Dhabi and its networks to provide more trials.
“We are in the process of rolling out many more early-stage trials here.”
From March 2022, experts will conduct remote training courses from Pfizer Clinical research units in Belgium, the US and Singapore.
Further training will take place at the company's research academy, academic institutions and with other specialised partners.
Participants will receive training in technologies and artificial intelligence tools that accelerate the drug discovery process, with trainees allocated a specific cohort with training based on their research role and expertise.
The pharma giant also pledged better mRNA flu vaccines and a new migraine drug at the conference.
Regional officers of the drug manufacturer behind the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and antiviral treatment Paxlovid said new technology in vaccine production had created a new era for global pharmaceuticals.
They said new messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) technology that helped create Covid vaccines will be helpful in inoculating the masses from flu.
mRNA flu vaccine may be the next big thing
Pfizer’s collaboration with German biotechnology company BioNTech aims to create a better flu shot by speeding up manufacturing and removing the guesswork from annual vaccine programmes.
A key development resulting from the rapid research and real-world trials generated during the pandemic has been a broader acceptance of mRNA vaccines, leading pharmaceutical experts say.
Once viewed with scepticism at the onset of Covid-19, the mRNA vaccines that teach cells how to trigger an immune response to fight infection are now considered vital to future vaccine development.
That is most apparent in future flu vaccines, usually developed each year to fight emerging new variants that mutate over the summer months.
Under previous methods, scientists would try to predict which flu virus would become dominant each winter, dependent on viral surveillance data.
A production time of around six months would often lead to vaccine selections being a poor match for a mutated flu virus, offering just 60 per cent protection in a good year.
That could change using mRNA technology.
Scientists would no longer require live cells to develop new vaccines, instead they would study genes of current viral strains to then synthetically produce the corresponding RNA.
That can then be injected to stimulate an immune response.
“At the start of Covid, many people had concerns over the safety and efficacy of mRNA technology in vaccines, but now we know it can hugely support other diseases,” said Pfizer’s medical lead in Africa and the Middle East, Yasser El Dershaby.
“We have partnered with others including BioNTech to develop new vaccines and have started clinical trials on the first influenza vaccine that will be a single dose using mRNA.
“We are also working on an Omicron-specific vaccine and another that is bivalent so it can work against two or more variants of Covid.”
The officials did not give a time frame as to when these vaccines will be available in the market.
New migraine treatment
Pfizer’s first gene-related peptide receptor antagonist to treat and prevent migraine is due to be launched in May, Mr Dershaby said.
Rimegepant will soon be available for adults experiencing at least four migraine attacks a month after the drug was backed by the European Medicines Agency in February.
A new range of cancer treatments is also likely in the near future, thanks to developments in clinical research.
Pfizer has 11 medications used in the Mena region to treat different types of cancers, but 15-20 more are under development for breast, lung and colorectal cancer, among others.
Gene therapy to treat haemophilia and certain types of neural muscular disorders are also under development by the company.
“In one year we have gained an experience usually gained in 10 years,” said Mr Dershaby.
“We want to develop more real-world evidence so we know what works on our population here with more studies and building infrastructure to enhance research capabilities.
“That means training more junior researchers to conduct good clinical trials with good practice guidelines who are certified and well-trained.”