Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world – over 17 percent of the population are diabetic – making the supply of insulin products a matter of significant national interest. To this end, the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between historic US diabetes leader Eli Lilly and AJA Pharma, the pharmaceutical arm of Saudi Chemical Company Holding (SCCH), to manufacture Lilly’s insulin portfolio locally potentially represents a significant moment in the Kingdom’s battle against the disease.


Lilly, which was the first company in the world to commercialise insulin back in 1923 and which has had a Saudi presence for over 40 years, has played up its commitment to helping the country reach its ambitious Vision 2030 economic transformation goals. Speaking with PharmaBoardroom prior to the announcement of this latest MoU, the company’s general manager for Saudi Arabia, Dimitri Livadas, opined that “the priorities of innovator companies such as Lilly are very much aligned with Vision 2030’s objective of transforming the Kingdom into a knowledge-based economy.”


Lilly’s revamp of its Saudi operations in line with this Vision has involved nationalising its workforce, a process known as ‘Saudization’. Livadas has been seen significant progress in this area, noting that “Saudization was the first thing on my plate after landing in 2018. We did not look at it as a problem, we saw it as an opportunity, embracing it from the beginning. We only had eight percent Saudi nationals when we started that effort almost three years ago and our team was predominantly made by men. Today, we have more than 70 percent Saudi nationals of which more than half are women, and three quarters are millennials.”


The US firm is also basing clinical trials in Saudi and has opened a regional headquarters in Riyadh.


Upon the announcement of the MoU, Livadas said “We are pleased to sign this MoU with AJA Pharma as we further emphasize our commitment to a future in Saudi, with Saudi, and for Saudi. This milestone demonstrates once again Lilly’s commitment to Vision 2030 and the development of the local healthcare capabilities in the Kingdom. We look forward to continue strengthening our local footprint and helping patients who need our medicines”.


On the other side of the table, Eng. Thamer Al-Muhaid, SCCH’s CEO said, “We seek to strengthen (AJA Pharma)’s position in the local and global pharmaceutical manufacturing sector and to develop its capabilities in biomedical technology through this strategic cooperation with Lilly, the leading pharmaceutical global company in insulin manufacturing. This would be a significant step towards localizing and transferring insulin manufacturing techniques, resulting in ensuring drugs security in Saudi Arabia, training of national personnel as well as creating more qualitative employment opportunities in line with the objectives of Vision 2030.”