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Healthtech provider targets early cancer detection across Mena

Akram Bouchenaki, CEO of Abdul Latif Jameel Health
Akram Bouchenaki, CEO of Abdul Latif Jameel Health, said it was focusing on unmet needs such as "orphan diseases"
  • Company aims to bring innovations to the region
  • Healthcare division of Abdul Latif Jameel was established in 2020

Abdul Latif Jameel Health is planning to expand throughout the Middle East and Africa, its CEO Akram Bouchenaki has told AGBI.

The multinational company – the healthcare business of Saudi family conglomerate Abdul Latif Jameel – is looking at new locations and tech innovations as part of its ambition to accelerate the region’s access to modern medical care.

“We’re opening many doors, both in terms of geographies and therapies,” Bouchenaki said. “I think there’s going to be a strong focus on the Middle East but also Africa – and India remains a very important country for us.

“But also in terms of novel therapy areas, because we want to make sure we stick with the unmet needs.

“We’re looking to find diagnostic tools to improve the early detection of cancers. We’re looking into ‘orphan diseases’, which is also a huge area of unmet need. It concerns a small portion of the population but unfortunately with fairly devastating consequences.

“If we’re able to have an impact on that segment of the healthcare sector, we’ll be very happy.”

Abdul Latif Jameel Health was set up in 2020 in response to the global disparity in access to medical care. 

Up to 3.5 billion people – almost half the world’s population – lack access to the health services they need, according to the World Health Organisation. Almost 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty each year because of out-of-pocket healthcare expenses. 

Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation, disproportionally affecting underserved and marginalised populations and worsening existing health disparities. 

Since its launch, Abdul Latif Jameel Health has forged relationships with numerous health and medtech specialists, including Butterfly Network, EQRx, Cyberdyne, Evelo Biosciences, Melody International and Holoeyes.

Bouchenaki added that the Middle East entrepreneurial environment was ripe to take advantage of medtech.

“Just like it’s happening in other sectors of the economy, the appetite for healthcare innovation is huge,” he said.

“Specifically, when you talk about a country like the UAE where there is excellent healthcare infrastructure and coverage, definitely this is a place where you can foresee the adoption of innovative technologies.”

Over the next year, Abdul Latif Jameel Health plans to bring to market products including a device to monitor foetuses remotely. The technology, which is going through the registration process, follows the company’s partnership with Japan-based Melody International.

“Using a simple handheld device, a pregnant lady can monitor from the comfort of her own home and her physician receives the status of the foetus immediately, knowing whether there is an issue and whether they need to go to the hospital urgently,” Bouchenaki said. “This is great for mostly at-risk pregnancies in remote locations.”

Abdul Latif Jameel Health also aims to introduce a lung cancer therapy from US company EQRx. Bouchenaki added: “We keep a very pragmatic approach to investing in the current environment, but we have a full pipeline and the pipeline keeps on getting bigger and bigger.”

The global medical devices market is forecast to be worth $964.9 billion by 2030, according to an October 2022 report by Market Research Future.

Research from Strategy&, part of PwC, has underlined the potential impact of artificial intelligence on healthcare, saying it could provide faster, more accurate and less invasive diagnoses.

Bouchenaki believes that AI has an important role to play and pointed to the impact the metaverse is already having.

“The metaverse is enabling surgeons to be trained remotely and so you can get immersed into a virtual universe and perform surgery with the guidance of an expert that is sitting several continents away,” he said.

“It’s fascinating and this is happening today. We are absolutely fully engaged in all of this digital innovation.”