Dubai: An Emerging Innovation Hub for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

Dubai: An Emerging Innovation Hub for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

Dubai: An Emerging Innovation Hub for Pharmaceutical ManufacturingWith Dubai already being home to both local and international healthcare and pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, this year alone the Emirate has added a number of facilities to its offering, including pharmaceutical manufacturer, Pharmax Pharmaceuticals. Recent research by macroeconomic research firm, BMI, forecasts the UAE’s pharmaceutical manufacturing and healthcare sector is expected to grow by over five percent in 2018 to Dh65.68bn, reaching Dh78.13bn by 2021.

According to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association Gulf Forum, the pharmaceutical market in the UAE is expected to grow from Dh9.61 billion in 2016 to Dh14.11 billion by 2020, with key drivers including increased healthcare spend, mandatory health insurance and growing medical tourism.

Madhukar Tanna, CEO of a newcomer to the market, Pharmax Pharmaceuticals, explores the reasons behind the recent boom in the UAE’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector and how Dubai is becoming a hub for innovation in healthcare.

The boom in UAE’s pharmaceutical manufacturing sector

Dubai: An Emerging Innovation Hub for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing
Madhukar Tanna – CEO of Pharmax Pharmaceuticals

The main point of discussion at the regional pharmaceutical event, CPhI Middle East & Africa, which took place in September in Abu Dhabi, was innovation and the future of healthcare and pharmaceuticals in the UAE. This level of focus on the emergence of the UAE as a major pharmaceutical manufacturer and exporter is not a new one, but it has been gaining momentum recently.

In 2014, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, launched Dubai Plan 2021 to reinforce the emirate’s position as an international leader across a number of sectors. This followed the November 2014 announcement by the UAE Government that 2015 would be the ‘Year of Innovation’, promoting the UAE as a global pioneer in innovation alongside the introduction of the ambitious National Innovation Strategy.

Dubai – Global Platform for Innovation

June 2016 saw another strategic framework announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum with the launch of Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, further driving Dubai to become a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-focused businesses. Among the six priority sectors identified in the strategy are pharmaceutical manufacturing and medical equipment, due to their importance to Dubai Plan 2021 and future growth potential.

The term innovation is often associated with Research and Development and the launch of new medications. However, innovation also encompasses finding improved methods of delivering existing treatments. For example, replacing an injectable with an oral dose, or substituting an oral tablet with a patch. By offering patients alternative routes to administration, we can improve the patient experience and increase the likelihood of patients remaining compliant with their recommended courses of treatment.

Generic Alternatives

As the patents expire on medications, pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, such as Pharmax, have the opportunity to mass-produce generic alternatives. The Food & Drug Administration defines generic medication as a drug product that is comparable to a brand listed drug in dosage form, strength, route of administration, quality and performance characteristics and intended use. Generic medications are more affordable than name-branded alternatives, making them a more attractive alternative for insurance providers and sufferers of chronic illnesses where long-term treatment is indicated.

In addition to generic forms of medications, complex generic forms are a focus for both the region and Pharmax. Complex generic medications provide higher margins when compared to generics, further incentivizing local manufacturers to seek out innovation in the delivery of treatments.

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Key Milestones

The UAE Government’s vision for innovation and growth in the key targeted sectors, including pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, has opened the doors for local pharmaceutical companies to establish themselves in the region. A key milestone was the requirement of mandatory health insurance for all residents. Access to universal health care has increased demand for affordable medications used in the treatment of chronic illnesses.

Historically, the UAE has relied upon the importation of medicines from the international market. However, with government support for local manufacturers, including Pharmax Pharmaceutical, local companies have a unique opportunity to produce locally-manufactured medications and treatments and enter the market.


Private sector pharmaceutical manufacturing companies are also being encouraged to seek out and create partnerships at every level of the sector. In addition to equipping its new state-of-the-art facility with European-sourced equipment, Pharmax is entering into technology agreements with world-class pharmaceutical companies with a view to offering patients in the UAE and GCC medications with improved delivery systems.

When Pharmax was in the very early stages of its establishment, we considered only one location for our headquarters – Dubai. When looking at the requirements for launching and running a successful pharmaceutical manufacturing business, Dubai Science Park (DSP) was a perfect fit. DSP’s commitment to creating an ecosystem that promotes innovation is perfectly in-line with Pharmax’s long-term vision. In 2015, DSP and its task force partners identified five prime areas for innovation in the local healthcare sector, including complex generics.

Leading Global Healthcare Destination

In adherence with the efforts of the UAE Government to transform the United Arab Emirates into one of the most innovative countries in the world, the UAE is taking great strides towards becoming a leading global healthcare destination, offering best practices in patient care and locally-produced medication.

The collaboration between the private sector and the Ministry of Health and Prevention has resulted in the number of UAE-based pharmaceutical manufacturing companies increasing from 14  to 18 between 2014 and 2017. This number is expected to reach 36 by  2020, according to Dr. Ameen Hussain Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary for Public Health Policy and Licensing at the Ministry, while addressing a workshop organized by the ministry and regulatory experts from the European Medicines Agency.