Rapid reform in the healthcare market across the GCC is driving significant growth of the pharmaceutical market. The governments of UAE and KSA aim to boost domestic production of pharmaceuticals and reduce dependence on imports. In line with Abu Dhabi vision 2030 and Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, the UAE has a special emphasis on the pharmaceutical sector hoping to make itself a regional pharmaceutical manufacturing hub through government efforts in improving infrastructure and creating free zones. Additionally, under the KSA long-term plan, Vision 2030, and its shorter-term goals set in the National Transformation Programme (NTP), KSA is shifting towards ramping up local manufacturing capabilities and increasing export potential.

In the last few years, GCC countries have witnessed several deals in the pharmaceutical sector. Below are key deals that were announced across UAE between 2019 and 2021:

As UAE and KSA governments move closer towards realising the goals of Visions 2030, many established companies have started exploring new opportunities to expand their pharmaceutical manufacturing and exportation. During the past few years, several partnerships between giant pharmaceutical companies were announced across GCC countries. In UAE, Neopharma and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have signed a partnership to create localisation and manufacturing opportunities. Additionally, the Ministry of Investment in KSA has signed a MoU with Janssen, a pharmaceutical company owned by Johnson & Johnson, to launch a range of initiatives and thereby boost healthcare capabilities in the Kingdom.

The market potential for increasing locally produced drugs and medicines in the GCC has been driven by:

The COVID-19 pandemic has promoted growth in the vaccine manufacturing market as many pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies entered into mergers and agreements with contract manufacturing companies to produce COVID-19 vaccines. The RNA-based vaccines, in addition to the traditional method of vaccine production, are rapidly accelerating throughout the pandemic. The UAE Government has launched Hayat-Vax vaccine, a locally produced version of the Sinopharm vaccine which is a result of collaboration between Sinopharm CNBG and Abu Dhabi’s G42. In addition, several pharma companies that have manufacturing hubs in GCC countries started expanding their operations to meet demands related to COVID-19. Pfizer is planning a further expansion to its manufacturing and packaging facility in KSA that was constructed in 2017. Also, Tabuk Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Company, has signed an agreement with Moderna Inc, to commercialise the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine across KSA. In fact, the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing capabilities in GCC countries will bring several benefits to the region including end-to-end vaccine production competences and proficiency in vaccine development.

The pharmaceutical markets in UAE and KSA offer a unique opportunity for international and local pharmaceutical companies based on the following aspects:
  • Significant jump in private healthcare investments in building state-of-the-art medical infrastructure
  • Quality of care with many hospitals being internationally accredited, e.g., with JCI
  • Many Government initiatives to promote medical tourism e.g.,
  • In April 2014, Dubai Health Tourism Strategy was approved, with Dubai Health Authority (DHA) overseeing its execution
  • Launch of “Dubai Health Experience” (DXH)- the world’s first medical tourism portal, where visitors can book appointments with doctors and plan their medical itineraries
  • Dubai’s strategic location with the Emirate being a four-hour flight away for one-third of the world’s population and an eight-hour flight for two-thirds of the world’s population making travel convenient for medical care seekers
  • Presence of multilingual medical and support teams in many healthcare facilities
  • UAE Government’s initiatives to curb the spread of Covid-19 by implementing various precautionary measures, increasing use of telehealth, successful re-opening of borders and the Emirate’s high vaccination rate
The number of medical tourists have been growing significantly in Dubai and the Emirate aims to achieve its goal of attracting 500,000 medical tourists by the end of 2021, supported by Expo 2020 and the continued development of the healthcare sector. Dentistry, orthopaedics, dermatology, and fertility treatment are the top specialities attracting health tourists to Dubai with tourists spending ~AED1.2 billion in health tourism. The majority of patients come from following regions-
  • Arab and GCC countries with top nationalities being Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman (~33%)
  • Asia with India, and Pakistan being the top Asian countries (~30%)
  • Europe with top countries being UK, France, and Italy (~16%)

At the same time, some patients are traveling abroad from Dubai to seek medical care mainly for Oncology, advanced paediatric care etc. However, overall patients travelling overseas from Dubai has decreased at a significant rate (~29% decrease per annum between 2015 and 2019) because of expanding medical facilities in Dubai.

Going forward, Dubai is expected to be ready to offer elective health and wellness treatments to medical tourists and is expected to consolidate its position as one of the major medical tourism destinations in the world.

Did you find the information you were looking for on this page?