A charismatic force at the forefront of the country’s health transformation efforts, Dr Amin Al Amiri currently serves as assistant undersecretary at the UAE Ministry of Health as well as chairman of the UAE Supreme National Blood Transfusion Committee. In conversation earlier this year at BIO2023, Dr Al Amiri touched on five key ways in which the UAE ensures that its healthcare system remains top-class and provides rapid access to cutting-edge therapies and medical technologies.


World Leading Pandemic Response

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a host of issues beyond the threat of the virus itself, most notably straining supply chains for personal protective equipment (PPE), therapeutics, and vaccines. While many countries struggled to adapt to this unprecedented global health emergency, Dr Al Amiri bullishly suggests that the UAE’s response was world leading.

“Our top priority [during the pandemic] was to manage the security of our health services,” he says. “Because they were managed well, they were able to quickly overcome the situation and provide the community with treatment, vaccination and PCR testing. I think that the UAE was number one in the world with respect to the number of PCR tests and … in providing the community with vaccines free of charge.”

On the vaccines point, thanks to strategic partnerships with the private sector, the UAE was able to provide more than 15 different vaccines to its population, the highest number worldwide. Additionally, leveraging its reactivity, the UAE even became an important source of support for other nations, as Dr Al Amiri notes. “We were also the first country in the region to produce our own vaccine and in a short period, we were able to set up four new factories to produce ventilators and PPE,” he proclaims. “During the pandemic, many countries in the region suffered from a shortage of medicines, PPEs and ventilators and we were completely the opposite. And in just six to eight months, we were able to supply 41 countries.”


Becoming a Global Hub

In the vast, economically diverse, and at times unstable Middle East and Africa (MEA) region, there are a dearth of suitable locations for global pharma to situate regional headquarters, with all the investment and expertise they bring. The UAE, with its favourable investment policies, strong legal framework, location, talent, and infrastructure is perhaps the only logical location for such hubs today, something that Dr Al Amiri explains is the result of a conscious strategy from the country’s authorities.

“We believe in having strong partnerships, not only on a regional level, but globally,” he begins. “And therefore, we were very keen to restructure our regulations and policies to make sure that we were able to host international pharma companies and to be a base for them not only for the GCC countries, but also at the level of the region. We have succeeded in attracting international companies. In 2015 we had just 23 international pharma companies with regional offices in the UAE to cover 41 or 42 countries. Today, there are over 100 companies covering many more countries from their offices in the UAE. For example, Takeda covers 85 countries. And speaking of global partnerships, the upcoming COP28 will be hosted by the UAE.”


Faster Approvals

In deciding where in the world to launch their latest and most innovative new therapies, speed and efficiency of the local regulatory approval process is a key concern for global pharma. The UAE has developed a strong reputation on this front, as well as on how quickly it is able to conduct pricing negotiations; a particularly important factor for cutting-edge medicines that come with a high price-tag.

“We decided we needed to support the pharma industry in terms of legislation, pricing, and fast-track registrations,” says Dr Al Amiri. “To give you an idea, my KPIs go as high as the prime minister’s office. I have to register each and every medicine that has been approved by the FDA (US), the EMA (Europe), the TGA (Australia), or the MHRA (UK) within 45 days. “

He continues, “His Excellency the Minister released a decree because we shared our legislation with the private sector and we found that the private sector wanted approvals to go faster than 45 days and the decree is a sort of management regulation, that allows us to receive a dossier before an FDA or EMA approval. Today, upon EMA or FDA approval, drugs are registered the same day in my country.”


Clinical Trials: The Next Step

While becoming a node for regional headquarters and creating straightforward market access procedures are both strong selling points to global pharma, if the UAE is truly to transform into an industry hub, it needs to increase its R&D output, including via greater participation in international clinical trial efforts.

Again, Dr Al Amiri foregrounds the importance of private sector collaboration in this push. “We believe strategic partnerships should not only be between governments, but also with the private sector,” he notes. “The private sector drives the economy and companies support government initiatives and academia. As His Excellency the minister has said, you cannot manage your healthcare system and hold clinical trials without involving academia, R&D centres, and the private sector.”

Progress has thus far been steady rather than stratospheric, but the UAE does rank as the country with the second highest number of clinical trials in MEA, behind only Israel, in a recent IQVIA report. “That shows that we believe in clinical trials and clinical trials will lead to new discoveries for biotechnology or different medicines for rare diseases,” says Dr Al Amiri.


An Unwavering Commitment to PPPs

Looking ahead, private sector participation will clearly be a core element in the UAE’s healthcare progress, with public-private partnerships (PPPs) already contributing significantly. “Governments have to work with the private sector,” states Dr Al Amiri, “PPPs not only support the community and the country, but that also send that support back to companies.”

“The track and trace system, which has been implemented in the UAE, is based on a partnership between the federal government, local governments and the private sector,” he notes. “With this system we track each and every package of medicine from the factory until it reaches the hands of the patient.  We control the cold chain, make sure there are no counterfeit medicines, and protect the investment of private pharma companies while making sure patients’ safety has been well protected.”

Another example is medical tourism. “Everyone believes that medical tourism depends on hospitals, and talented physicians, but there is one more factor,” adds Dr Al Amiri. “Many countries in the region started to believe and support medical tourism, but they did not succeed. We succeeded in hosting the majority of the medical tourism patients in the region because of the strategic partnerships we have with the private sector.”