A start-up prescription for the Gulf

A start-up prescription for the Gulf
A start-up prescription for the Gulf

We show you our most important and recent visitors news details A start-up prescription for the Gulf in the following article

Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - BAHRAIN — Since the dawn of medicine, physicians have understood that all treatments don’t work for everybody. Indeed, an ancient therapeutic axiom advises healers to treat the patient and not the disease. New advances in genetic and medical technology will enable doctors to apply that idea in unprecedented ways — and the Gulf’s healthcare sector could stand to benefit as personalized medicine becomes the norm.

Personalized medicine or theranostics is the tailoring of medical treatments to each individual — or sometimes, a group of similar individuals — in line with their unique molecular and genetic profiles. Through a combination of pharmacology, genomics and digital technology, the approach aims to provide patients with the right drug at the right stage of an illness, as well as offer indicative warnings before a disease even sets in.

Enormous healthcare market

National authorities across the world believe such personalized medical approaches could revolutionise the future of healthcare, reducing costs, improving efficiencies and saving lives. And countries in the region, with innovation in their DNA, are among a raft of nearly 40 health-focused nations exploring these new applications.

Bahrain has led efforts to develop high-quality medical services for its population and is among the first countries to create a national genetic biobank. Over 50,000 DNA data samples will be collected over the next five years in order to build a reference library for hereditary illnesses across the region.

Also, Saudi Arabia expects its recently established Human Genome Program to contribute to its Vision 2030 plan, of which health care is a major plank.

Meanwhile, in October, the genome of two Emirati individuals was mapped for the first time, providing a starting point for constructing a national reference panel as part of the UAE Genome Project.

These initiatives are partly a response to the region’s enormous healthcare costs. Saudi Arabia alone spends $30 billion on health treatments annually. Kuwait, with one-eighth the population, is on course to pay $8 billion next year.

Overall, the region’s current health care expenditure will reach $104.6 billion by 2022, a CAGR of 6.6% from $76.1 billion in 2017. Non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are the major line items on that bill.

On the other hand, the Middle East region also carries a high burden of genetic disease, both as severe inherited conditions and by way of common genetic diseases that appear later in life, such as diabetes.

Opportunities for entrepreneurs

This is where precision medicine comes in. MedTech applications that leverage its benefits could be worth $3.4 billion worldwide by 2024. But the GCC’s enormous market, authorities’ commitment to embracing new technologies and the potential for immediate application among 580 million people offer a promising value opportunity for entrepreneurs on a mission to serve the greater good.

Several countries have rolled out the red carpet for health care start-ups recently as part of their diversification efforts.

Visa regulations have been changed: Both Bahrain and the UAE have announced 10-year residency programs for investors. And the law is changing: Insurance laws across the region have been reformed in the recent years and new legislation is being drafted to encourage inward investment through private-public partnerships.

In Bahrain, for example, a raft of factors from legislative action to private-sector infrastructure investments are converging to create a transformative new destination for personalised health care. Last year, the state promulgated a new universal health insurance law to provide a consolidated, responsive and high-quality healthcare system for residents, expats and visitors alike.

Some industry insiders estimate that investments in the country’s healthcare sector have jumped 50-70% since the start of 2019 — possibly because Bahrain offers 100% foreign ownership for entrepreneurs with the lowest setup and operating costs within the GCC, at 30-50% lower than neighbouring countries.

Can the GCC become a world leader in precision medicine? The building blocks are in place; the onus is on health care entrepreneurs to make it happen. — SG


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