Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: The UAE government is enacting policies and programs to help it become a hub for pharmaceuticals and is establishing medical research and development centers across the country.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) sets the precedent for the region’s life sciences sector, due to the national vision of achieving world-class, internationally recognized health care infrastructure. The local government is committed to continuously strategizing and improving the quality of health care and laboratory testing services in the country. According to a report published by BMI Research, the UAE life sciences sector is at the midpoint of achieving 37 percent growth—which would equal about $19 billion—from 2014 to 2019. The UAE plans to become a major global hub for pharmaceuticals, with the key factors contributing to this growth being a patent cliff allowing for mass production of generic pharmaceuticals and an increasing population of expatriate skilled workers returning for work opportunities.

Despite experiencing marked upward growth, the life sciences sector in UAE is still far from becoming the genuine hub it aspires to be. The local government knows this and is setting aside funds for local entrepreneurs and small and midsize companies, as well as startup training and development to encourage growth in this sector.

In February 2018, the Dubai Health Authority launched the Human Genome Project as part of its Dubai 10X Initiative. Launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Dubai 10X aims to implement innovations now that other countries will not be able to match for another 10 years. The project seeks to upgrade the skills of medical professionals and forecast the future of human health by using artificial intelligence to detect changes in genes and chromosomes, with expected outcomes that would help prevent and eliminate chronic and genetic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and obesity.

Also in February 2018, the UAE Cabinet approved a national plan to establish medical research and development centers across the country, in cooperation with academic institutions, to support comprehensive development of its health care sector.

In the second half of 2017, the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention collaborated with local free zone authorities to attract international pharmaceutical companies to locate in the UAE. This collaboration between the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention and the local free zone authorities present lucrative opportunities for global pharmaceutical giants that are looking to set up their international base in the UAE to support their operations in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia by establishing research and development laboratories and manufacturing plants. Consequently, the number of international pharmaceutical companies (scientific offices) is anticipated to increase from 47 in 2017 to 75 by 2021, with annual investment projected to exceed $816 million. Meanwhile, the number of pharmaceutical manufacturing companies with UAE factories is projected to increase from 18 in 2017 to 36 in 2021.

At present, there are a handful of international pharmaceutical companies that have partnered with local manufacturers. These partnerships are in the form of a joint venture or a contractual partnership arrangement. Some of the U.S.-UAE pharmaceutical partnerships include Neopharma and Wyeth/Pfizer; United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) and BioLegend; and Julphar Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries and Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) in the U.S. and Canada. The UAE market is still dependent on imports from Europe, the U.S. and India for sophisticated and specialty drugs. Nearly 64 percent of pharmaceuticals come from Europe, about 8 percent from North America, and another 5 percent from India.

The UAE life sciences sector is set to grow significantly in the coming years, as the surrounding region grows into a pharmaceutical hub for the Middle East more broadly, indicating that opportunities exist for Wisconsin companies in the market.