Abu Dhabi has opened a clinical trials centre to further medical research and help to establish the capital as a global hub for medicine.
The centre at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City is a partnership with the Mayo Clinic and will seek cures to diseases after traditional treatments and medicines have failed.
Clinical trials are research studies of medications, vaccines, medical devices, procedures, diagnostics tests, and other health-related products.
Research work will extend to neurology, rheumatology, haematology, oncology, cardiology, ophthalmology, gastroenterology and paediatrics.
Medical research is not new to the hospital. About 100 patients are already involved in clinical trials and 87 studies are under way.
Dr Naser Ammash, chief executive of Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City, said: “This is a major milestone. The clinical trial unit will help us conduct the trials inside the hospital to test new potential treatments.
“As a cardiologist, I wish I had solutions for everybody but in my 25 years of practice, there were times when I didn't have answers to everybody’s needs.”
He said in the long run when new treatments are found, it will give treatment options to patients after FDA-approved drugs have failed to help them.
Many people travel abroad for treatment but this may be avoided when the centre's work starts showing results.
“If we do not find a solution, then we have to look for a solution and this is where research and development can work. We need to find innovative solutions,” Dr Ammash said.
“Some patients have unmet needs and as physicians, nurses and scientists, we need to look for solutions and part of the solution is to do research.
“This will elevate our institution to higher levels because we're not only taking care of patients but also looking for different kinds of solutions for their needs when needed.
“This is how you develop the life sciences hub in Abu Dhabi and take it to that next level.”
In what areas will research work be carried out?
The new centre will carry out research work in all areas.
“This would include innovative drugs, which have not been used in the country,” said Dr Shahrukh Hashmi, acting medical director of research.
“After the appropriate approvals by the Department of Health, our priority areas from a clinical perspective are haematology, oncology and transplant, gastroenterology, neurology, cardiology and endocrinology but we are conducting trials in all areas."
Research will also be carried out in healthcare technology, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and the Internet of Things to further advancement in the field.
Clinical trials can take up to two years but successful ones may last longer.
“One of the top areas is cancer and we want to do individualised personalised medicine,” Dr Hashmi said.
“This will provide hope to patients who have gone through all their cancer therapies without success.”
Joining the trials is voluntary but officials did not rule out the possibility of some of them being paid in the future.
What are the different phases in clinical trials?
There are three main phases of clinical trials.
Some trials have an earlier stage called phase 0, and there are some phase 4 trials done after a drug has been licensed.
In phase 1, products are tested with humans for the first time but limited to a small group to assess the safety of the product or treatment.
In phase 2, the product/treatment is given to a larger group with a focus on studying effectiveness.
In phase 3, thousands of patients are involved to further assess safety, monitor side effects, and compare with other products and medicines if there are any in the market.
Abu Dhabi as a medical research centre
According to officials from the Department of Health — Abu Dhabi, the capital is well-placed to become the leading destination for clinical trials.
With its population from all parts of the world and its strategic position on the map, Abu Dhabi is suited to attracting international life sciences corporations.
Currently, there are about 400 clinical research trials under way in Abu Dhabi.
Researchers can use the Emirati Genome Programme, which aims to provide preventive and personalised health care for the Emirati population, and the Malaffi system which has unified health services and patient information.
Research has revealed some drugs are ineffective in Emirati patients, including those with diabetes, and scientists are seeking to understand why.
Abu Dhabi-based G42 Healthcare extracts data anonymously for analysis by its Biogenix Labs and Omics Centre of Excellence.
Meanwhile, a centralised database of patient records under the Malaffi system provides population health information to assist in service planning.
As the system progresses, AI technology and machine learning will be used to reduce disease progression and promote improved health outcomes.
The UAE was one of the first countries to participate in clinical trials of Sinopharm coronavirus vaccines, while Abu Dhabi locally manufactured more than 300,000 Covid-19 RNA extraction solution samples.
It is an example of the emirate’s potential and rapid development, according to Dr Omar Najim, director of executive affairs at the Department of Health — Abu Dhabi.