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2024-01-26| PolicySpecial

Saudi Arabia Reveals Grand Ambition to Become a Global Biotech Powerhouse by 2040

by Richard Chau
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As Arab Health 2024, the premier biotech and healthcare event of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, kicks off soon in Dubai in late January, Saudi Arabia, another powerhouse in the region, has recently launched a National Biotech Strategy (the Strategy) with an ambition to become MENA’s leading biotech hub by 2030 and a global biotech leader with a far-reaching impact in biomanufacturing and medical innovation by 2040. 

Launched by Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (the Kingdom), as a part of the Kingdom’s grand project themed Vision 2030, the Strategy illustrates Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to drive the growth of its biotechnology sector, enhancing the health and well-being of citizens and maintaining long-term self-sufficiency for the Kingdom. The Strategy pinpoints four cutting-edge areas to which the Kingdom will give the greatest priority, including vaccines, biomanufacturing and localization, genomics and plant optimization. 

Related article: Arab Health Sells Out as International Exhibitors Hit Record Levels 

Strengthening Biotech R&D and Manufacturing Capabilities by Targeting 4 Cutting-edge Areas

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Saudi Arabia realizes the importance of establishing its capability for the development, production and distribution of effective vaccines to combat future infectious diseases. Regarding the R&D endeavors, the Kingdom will further invest in innovative technologies for late-stage vaccine development. On the manufacturing side, the Kingdom plans to develop end-to-end vaccine manufacturing capabilities for self-sufficiency and MENA exports, ensuring regional health security. 

Saudi Arabia also aims to reduce dependence on imported drugs by localizing biomanufacturing. The Kingdom will actively work on reinforcing its domestic biomanufacturing platform to enhance self-sufficiency and facilitate global export of biologics and biosimilars. Besides, through promoting widespread adoption of biosimilars (>60%), it is hoped that the Kingdom can spend less on healthcare, allowing citizens to access high-quality treatments in an affordable and convenient way.

Advancements in genomics hold the key to the new era of precision and individualized medicine. Thus, Saudi Arabia aspires to expand the national genomic database and analytics platform with the goal to foster R&D and improve disease prevention. The Kingdom will also put substantial efforts into implementing policies that support genomics research and facilitate effective access to genome data, as well as integrating genomics for more accurate diagnoses and effective interventions.

As a desert country with an arid climate and scarce water resources, it is an overwhelming task for Saudi Arabia to develop agriculture as a means of stabilizing the food supply. According to the Strategy, Saudi Arabia is “dedicated to becoming a prominent contributor in the field of plant biology”. The Kingdom will harness the power of biotechnology to optimize its crops and trees by enhancing their climate resilience, thereby increasing self-sufficiency in food production and providing novel solutions to other countries and regions facing similar climatic challenges.

Investing Billions to Turn Saudi Arabia into a Global Biotech Powerhouse in 16 Years

A recent report compiled by Strategy& Middle East, part of the PwC network, with the title “Accelerating Saudi Arabia’s Biotechnology Sector”, suggests that Saudi Arabia has already invested $3.9 billion in biotech R&D since 2021, and boasts several top-tier institutions focused on science and technology and medicine, including KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology), KSU (King Saud University), KACST (King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology), King Abdullah Institute of Medical Research (KAIMRC) and King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center. (KFSHRC). This clearly demonstrates the Kingdom’s immense potential to emerge as a regional or even global biotech hub. 

The newly-launched National Biotech Strategy provides a comprehensive roadmap which shows how Saudi Arabia will achieve this great ambition. In line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 objectives, the Strategy reveals the plan to streamline regulatory requirements, provide suitable infrastructure, promote integration between the public and private sectors, and offer financing to empower the local biotechnology industry. 

Apart from becoming a key player in the global biotech industry, Saudi Arabia plans to create 11,000 high-quality and innovative job opportunities by 2030 (55,000 by 2040), thereby spurring economic growth and facilitating economic diversification. Along with gradual maturation of the Kingdom’s biotech sector, the Strategy targets a 3% contribution of the industry to the non-oil gross domestic product (GDP) by 2040, with a cumulative impact of SR130 billion ($34.66 billion). 

“The National Biotechnology Strategy sets the stage for dynamic prospects to develop and empower our talented researchers, entrepreneurs, and innovators while driving groundbreaking discoveries and propelling our nation towards a prosperous future.” commented Abdullah Amer AlSwaha, Chairman of Saudi Arabia’s Board of Directors of the Research, Development and Innovation Authority. 

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