From 2003 to 2010 imports of pharmaceuticals into Dubai, one of seven emirates that make up the UAE, grew 275 per cent to AED 3bn ($800m). Exports have also grown strongly but off a lower base and last year totalled AED 400m, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) reports.
“Imports of hi-tech medicine are compounded by the fact that the pace of regional innovation is slower when compared with other rival hubs such as Singapore, and the fact that although improving, domestic patent law is still migrating towards international standards”, DCCI said.
Counterfeiting is another issue that could put off investors. In 2009 73 per cent of fake drugs seized at European Union borders came from the UAE. In response the UAE has increased the number, frequency and thoroughness of inspections and other steps will be taken to encourage investment.
Over the medium to long-term DCCI, a non-profit public entity, expects regulations implemented by individual emirates and the nation to solve these problems. With these changes in place DCCI expects foreign investment to increase, giving the UAE a stronger local manufacturing presence.
In 2010 close to two-thirds of pharmaceutical imports came from Europe. North America and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) accounted for eight per cent each. India was the source of five per cent of total imports, making it the biggest supplier from Asia, DCCI reports.
Investment from overseas will help UAE increase total output and shift emphasis to complex, higher value drugs. As it stands the bulk of local manufacturing sites produce basic medicines, DCCI said, but even without funding from overseas this is starting to change.
Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar) is leading this shift by collaborating with Parexel to develop human recombinant insulin. Julphar has nine manufacturing facilities in the UAE and sells its products in 45 countries.