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A new age as Abu Dhabi accelerates its longevity push

Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence will be home to the region's first biocomputing innovation lab MBZUAI
Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence will be home to the region's first biocomputing innovation lab
  • Emirate launching facilities to boost research
  • Over 60s in UAE expected to reach 16% of population by 2050
  • Longevity sector could be worth $32 billion for UAE by 2026

Abu Dhabi has grand plans to dominate the multi-billion-dollar longevity sector in the Gulf with the opening of two new facilities.

The longevity industry is focused on the science of ageing and its related illnesses. The market is predicted to grow to as much as $32 billion in the UAE by 2026.

And the region’s first biocomputing innovation research laboratory plus a biopharma manufacturing plant are set to be installed in the Emirates’ capital.

The laboratory will be based in Masdar City and aims to address critical life science needs, including researching age-related illnesses.

It is a joint venture between Abu Dhabi’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI) and biotech company BioMap.

Professor Kun Zhang, MBZUAI deputy chair of machine learning, said the lab would “fast-track both energy sustainability solutions and the creation of new drugs that could help treat ageing-associated diseases.”

The biopharma facility – a partnership between Abu Dhabi sovereign investor Mubadala Investment Company and California-based National Resilience – will manufacture drugs to treat complex illnesses such as cancer, infectious diseases, and inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.

The World Health Organization recently announced that the global population of people aged 60 years and older will double to 2.1 billion by 2050, triggering a surge in ageing-associated diseases. 

In 2016 only one percent of the UAE population was aged 60 and older, but by 2050 this number is expected to reach 16 percent.

The longevity sector is predicted to grow by as much as 8.5 percent annually in the UAE from $19 billion in 2020 to $32 billion in 2026, according to Ageing Analytics Agency.

Over 420 UAE companies operate within the industry, with about 90 investors led by Emiratis but with a significant number from the US and the UK. 

Dr Sven-Olaf Vathje, partner and head of the health and life sciences practice at Oliver Wyman in India, the Middle East and Africa, said: “There are good reasons to believe that Abu Dhabi will be successful in not only taking a slice of the global longevity market, but also in actually shaping clinical offerings in the field.

"In many respects, Abu Dhabi has the right ingredients to establish itself as a longevity hub.

"Funding sources range from direct government to venture capital and philanthropy," he added. This enables Abu Dhabi to engage in projects such as the Genome Program to create data sets on which longevity offerings can be based.

Catching up fast

The Middle East is playing catch-up in the sector. The Longevity Investment Digest says that the US leads the way with a total of $672 billion invested in 26,654 companies, followed by China and the UK.

But Vathje believes that GCC countries will play a significant role in the global market. 

“The combination of wealth, low corporate and no personal taxes, a supportive regulatory environment, political stability, a focus on innovation, and an important location generate an attractive environment for biotech companies, researchers and longevity practitioners alike,” he said.

Anastasia Lit, director of investor relations and business development in Europe and Mena at Deep Knowledge Group, echoed agrees. “The longevity sector has the potential to deliver substantial return on investment while providing tangible benefits for humanity more than any other industry in history,” Lit said.

Abu Dhabi's Department of Health has developed a list of core targets to support the goal of increasing residents’ wellbeing through prevention of diseases and access to integrated, innovative, high quality and cost effective healthcare. 

In November Farhan Malik, CEO of healthcare network PureHealth, said: “When we talk about longevity, it is not only about increasing the lifespan of people, but rather their health spans, so that people may live healthier, longer and fuller lives.

"Currently, population ageing is straining economies, health systems and social structures worldwide and we need to transform the way we age, to ensure better health, function and productivity, during a period of extended longevity.”

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