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‘Full support’ for Abu Dhabi biotech tie-up with Israel

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Biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop products
  • Emirate is “really open” to partnership with Israeli biotechnology firms
  • Israel health chiefs agree there is potential for collaboration
  • Existing healthcare tie-ups range from cancer research to cyber security

Abu Dhabi would welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Israel to accelerate the development of biotechnology capabilities in the UAE.

Dr Dirk Richter, senior advisor and director of health sector innovation with the Department of Health Abu Dhabi, said the emirate is “really open” to forging a partnership with the likes of the Hadassah Medical Organisation, one of Israel’s biggest healthcare operators.

Asked during a webinar hosted by the UAE-Israel Business Council if a joint biotech accelerator was possible, Richter said: “Absolutely. We are moving more towards biotech and life sciences here in Abu Dhabi. There is full support for companies coming and establishing partnerships in the UAE.”

Richter continued: “We know we need to build more infrastructure for biotech companies to come, but I think we are quite strong when someone challenges us.

“If a partner says they need something to happen then it will happen for sure and it will happen much more quickly in Abu Dhabi than elsewhere. So we are really open for partnerships.”

A biotech accelerator is a programme designed to give early momentum to startups. 

Richter, who will visit Israel next month to hold talks with healthcare operators, is currently building a life sciences and healthtech innovation ecosystem in the UAE capital, working with SMEs, startups and entrepreneurs.

He told the webinar that partners could expect “full government support”, adding: “The Department of Health is not just a regulator. We also love to be an enabler – it is really important for us to help establish something that both countries can benefit from.”

Biotechnology is the integration of natural sciences and engineering to achieve the application of organisms, cells and molecular analogues for products and services.

The biotech sector is one of Israel’s most dominant sectors, with life science companies raising nearly $7 billion on the NASDAQ over the past decade. This has led major companies such as Pfizer, GE and Johnson & Johnson to build research and development centres and startup incubators in the country.

Israel also has a biotech fund, based in Rehovot, the country’s main biotech hub, which invests exclusively in companies developing drugs. 

Companies including Pfizer, GE and Johnson & Johnson have built biotech research and development centres and startup incubators in Israel

Last year, Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company said it had joined forces with Group 42, the artificial intelligence and cloud computing company, to set up a biopharmaceutical manufacturing campus in the emirate.

The parties said the new facility will tap into global vaccine and therapeutic products to strengthen regional supply chains and drive forward the country’s diversification and economic growth agenda.

Experts on the webinar panel said healthcare collaboration between the UAE and Israel has been growing quickly since the signing of the Abraham Accords two years ago, which normalised relations between the two countries.

Jorge Diener, executive director at Hadassah International, the company’s global arm, said there are opportunities for Israeli and UAE companies to come together “to bring transformative healthcare solutions to the world”.

“What most excites me is the revolution happening in healthcare and how Israel and the UAE can join forces,” he added.

Professor Yoram Weiss, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organisation, agreed, saying there is “huge potential” for collaboration across the clinical, teaching and research sectors. “In each of these we can share our expertise and we can see the collaboration growing as time goes by.”

However, he cautioned that there were no quick fixes and that companies on both sides must “fully commit” to the long term.

Joint UAE-Israel healthcare efforts range from fighting global pandemics through to the use of AI

Growing healthcare partnership

Last year, the Emirates Health Services Establishment signed a cooperation agreement with the Israeli Ministry of Health, aimed at enhancing quality of healthcare in the two countries.

Under the agreement, the cooperation ranges from joint efforts to fight global pandemics, protection of medical data, cyber security, medical education, innovation, and use of artificial intelligence and other fields of advanced technology.

Department of Health Abu Dhabi also signed a memorandum of understanding with Clalit Health Services, the largest health maintenance organisation in Israel and the second largest globally, which aims to pave the way for further cooperation in the healthcare sector.

More recently, Israel and the UAE have signed an agreement to promote cancer and diabetes research, in addition to a joint study on mass vitamin D deficiency in the region.

The Kahn-Sagol-Maccabi research and innovation centre of Israel’s Maccabi Healthcare Services signed a series of agreements with Emirati health organisations in Abu Dhabi, aimed at promoting medical research and technological innovation. 

This is the first agreement between Abu Dhabi Health Services Company, better known as SEHA, and an Israeli organisation, following normalisation of relations between the UAE and Israel in 2020. 

Healthcare is a part of a growing relationship between the UAE and Israel, which is on track to see $3 billion worth of bilateral trade this year.

Their growing ties have since been turbocharged by the signing of a free trade agreement in May.

Under the deal customs duties were eliminated on 96 percent of products, including food, agriculture, cosmetics, medical equipment and medicine, and includes regulation, customs, services and government procurement.

The UAE-Israel comprehensive economic partnership agreement is expected to advance bilateral trade beyond $10 billion within five years and add $1.9 billion to the UAE’s GDP within the same time period. Total UAE exports are expected to increase 0.5 percent by 2030.

According to Amir Hayek, the Israeli Ambassador to the UAE, bilateral trade witnessed a 117 percent increase to $1.2 billion during the first half of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

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