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Gulf embraces a personalised approach to healthcare

Adult, Female, Person Personalised precision medicine has the potential to transform treatment of chronic and genetic diseases scientist personalised healthcare lab science Pexels/Edward Jenner
Personalised precision medicine has the potential to transform treatment of chronic and genetic diseases
  • Personalised healthcare advancing fast
  • UAE market to reach $8.52 billion by 2028
  • Saudi ambitions to be biotech leader

The Gulf is shifting towards a more personalised approach to healthcare, but the growth of the sector faces challenges in terms of talent and data management according to experts. 

Traditional medicine tends to address only the initial health issues without tailoring solutions to the unique requirements of each patient, says Vadim Fedotov, CEO of Bioniq, a UK headquartered health management platform with offices in the UAE.

Fedotov points to the example of nutrition and vitamins, highlighting how a standard multivitamin tablet caters to everyone’s safety but lacks personalisation. 

In contrast, he says, personalised supplements, such as Bioniq’s, adapt to the body’s evolving needs, offering targeted benefits.

Alexander Shlyankevich, senior analyst at US research and advisory company Forrester says the “one-size-fits-all” approach to healthcare is undergoing a profound transformation, with “advances in genetics, molecular diagnostics, data science and artificial intelligence that are expanding doctors’ power to personalise therapies, gradually transforming into precision medicine”.

The Middle East has embraced this medical model.

The UAE last year launched a National Genome Strategy aimed at improving public health and well-being. This strategy also seeks to develop solutions for genetic and chronic diseases such as diabetes, blood pressure conditions and cancer.

In 2022, Abu Dhabi launched its first personalised precision medicine programme to treat cancer in the emirate, with the first phase focusing on the care of patients with breast cancer.

According to the Indian research firm Market Data Forecast, the UAE precision medicine market is expected to reach $8.52 billion by 2028, showing a substantial increase from $4.98 billion in 2023.

Saudi Arabia has launched a National Biotechnology Strategy with the aim of becoming the region’s biotech leader by 2030 and a global leader by 2040, contributing 3 percent, or SAR130 billion ($35 billion), to non-oil GDP. 

The plan will focus on making Saudi Arabia the regional market leader in genomics, vaccines, plant optimisation and biomanufacturing, creating 11,000 jobs by 2030, the Saudi Press Agency (Spa) said.

“Genomics is a disruptive field and the next frontier of medicine, and the kingdom aspires to become the leading genomics player in the Middle East and North Africa,” Spa reported.

The results of such initiatives are promising, especially when applied to clinical settings, Anand Pillai and Srinidhi Soundararajan, from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, said in a recent column for AGBI.

For instance, scientists involved in the Qatar Genome Programme have created the country’s first microarray gene chip. This advancement allows for more precise genetic testing for various disorders, paving the way for Qatar to integrate precision medicine into clinical practice.

However, the road to fully realising the benefits of precision medicine in the region is not without its challenges. 

Staff shortages and data management issues

A peer-reviewed medical journal, Genome Medicine, points out a shortage of genetic counsellors in the Arab region, with approximately 40 professionals available as of 2021, equating to 0.1 per million people.

Genetic counselling is a process of investigating individuals and families affected by, or at risk of, genetic disorders to help them understand and adapt to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.

Although “some countries are now establishing training programmes in genetic counselling, such programmes still face a steep road ahead as they need to grow significantly to train enough local talent and to meet the significant genetic counselling demand in this growing population,” the journal reports.

Fedotov also highlights challenges in the adoption of this model, citing complexities in data management and inadequacies in healthcare infrastructure. 

“Gathering, managing, and integrating diverse data sources, including genetic, clinical, lifestyle, and environmental data, is complex,” he says. “It is crucial to ensure interoperability among various systems. 

“Establishing standardised protocols and guidelines for data collection, analysis, and interpretation is essential for consistency and comparability across different healthcare institutions,” he tells AGBI.

“Addressing the high costs involved with tailored testing and treatments, is also a major barrier to its wider adoption”.

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