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The Fatima bint Mubarak Center at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, which opened recently, undoubtedly marks a milestone in healthcare in the UAE. However, the shiny new cutting-edge oncology center represents just one of a growing number of international alliances now forged as Abu Dhabi aspires to become a global life sciences and innovation hub.
The emirate’s sovereign fund Mubadala—which financed the pioneering US medical center’s expansion to the Middle East—has pumped more than $1.5 billion into high-tech health firms over the past five years.
In its latest splurge, Mubadala has invested in a fund run by London’s SV Health Investors, which targets British biotech outfits already making leaps in innovative drugs, vaccines, and cell and gene therapies. Explaining the move, Mohammed Al-Huraimel Al-Shamsi, who oversees Mubadala’s swelling UK portfolio, said: “Healthcare innovation is a priority that can be addressed with a global approach. This investment is an important part of our strategy offering support for next-generation life sciences businesses with the potential for significant and sustainable growth.”
Such alliances and investments, which are firmly in step with the UAE’s broader economic diversification program, are already rapidly transforming health infrastructure inside the country.
At the end of 2022, G42 Healthcare, a leading AI-driven healthcare company in Abu Dhabi, signed a partnership with Israel’s Sheba Medical Center—the most comprehensive hospital in the Middle East—to collaborate on research and clinical trials. A few days later, G42 struck a deal with AstraZeneca for the Cambridge, England-headquartered biopharma giant to develop innovative drugs at a new facility in Abu Dhabi.
According to G42’s CEO Ashish Koshy, the far-reaching collaboration with AstraZeneca “will accelerate innovation across local manufacturing and allow us to explore greater possibilities in clinical research, to deliver life-changing treatments to patients in the UAE and across the region.”
While the potential impact of several ongoing biopharmaceutical innovations is unprecedented, AI-powered predictive analytics is poised to usher in a new era of preventative medicine—or, as it is now being presented—personalized healthcare.
AstraZeneca is one of many foreign pharma outfits planning to build a facility to produce a new generation of drugs in Abu Dhabi. US-based National Resilience—a high-profile tech-focused biomanufacturing outfit, partly funded by Mubadala since 2021—is also in the process of constructing a plant in the emirate.
The California startup, better known as Resilience, aims to “create the processes and platforms that will allow scientists to make emerging therapies quickly, safely, and at scale.” Collaborating with leaders in academia, biopharma, and governments, the startup says its algorithms will improve how complex medicines, such as cell and gene therapies, are made. Mubadala will establish the Abu Dhabi facility from which Resilience intends to manufacture a range of drugs and vaccines.
“We firmly believe that, by strengthening Abu Dhabi’s national life sciences ecosystem, we are building a future-focused, sustainable, and knowledge-based economy for the UAE,” says Badr Al-Olama, executive director of Mubadala’s investment unit UAE Clusters, in a statement.
“Through this agreement, Mubadala and its group companies will unlock further opportunities for growth within the life sciences ecosystem and, alongside our key partners, will play an instrumental role in establishing a state-of-the-art biopharma campus that will secure the region’s supply chain from Abu Dhabi.”
Turbocharge Healthcare Sector
This feeds into the wider plans by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Health (DoH) to turbocharge the entire UAE healthcare sector. Twelve months ago, the DoH, together with G42 and Pure Health, the UAE’s largest operator of hospitals and clinics, established the Center of Digital Health (CDH) to leverage the latest AI technologies to develop comprehensive data and digital services platforms. G42 is also executing the UAE’s Genome Project—in collaboration with China’s BGI and the UK’s Oxford Nanopore Technologies—to study the genetic variation of its population.
“This data can generate a lot of insights that can help not just with precision medicine and research into diseases but with public health policy planning,” said Ronnie Rajan, a clinical applications specialist at G42, speaking at the Arab Health conference in Abu Dhabi in January. “We’re integrating all these different data sets into a common platform. Integration of silo datasets is essential for any research moving forward.”
The UAE government’s commitment to digital technologies in healthcare—especially those providing actionable insights on a real-time basis—has brought another business to the region. Innovaccer, the San Francisco-headquartered SaaS firm, which started in 2014 as a university project to help with faster research, now has a health cloud software platform used by healthcare organizations across the US.
Following a funding round led by Mubadala in December 2021, Innovaccer is now preparing to launch its growing suite of cloud services in the region from a new base in Abu Dhabi in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO). According to ADIO, this will create many skilled jobs and opportunities for collaboration with universities and local businesses.
AI is one of the main planks of Abu Dhabi’s transition to a knowledge-based economy, And it is hard to think of a sector AI is more likely to transform than healthcare. A new report by Prudent Markets, predicts the global AI-in-healthcare market—valued at $4.88 billion in 2020—could be worth $88.26 billion by 2028, representing a CAGR of 43.65%.
However, shepherding cutting-edge biopharma research and production to the UAE could bring additional benefits to the region, as the supply chain of pharmaceutical ingredients is becoming more fraught for global pharmaceutical players amid increasing climate change issues and geopolitical tensions.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia also aspires to be the Gulf’s leader in biotech and pharmaceuticals as it diversifies its economy away from oil.
As part of its vision is to attract investment into high-tech campuses and cutting-edge laboratories, Saudi Arabia is also courting international partners—last summer, it tapped pioneering American firm Digital Diagnostics to develop its AI technology in the kingdom—and this month, it has been exploring R&D collaborations with several innovative healthcare German firms.