July 17, 2024

The Health

Your health, your choice

Responsible Innovation, how a blueprint for collaborative action is advancing global healthcare

Q1: Healthcare is a top priority for the UAE government, with healthcare spending, especially in healthcare infrastructure, expected to exceed $30 billion by 2027, accounting for 6% of GDP by 2026, with 700 healthcare projects underway. Why is healthcare being prioritised in this way?
Investments in the healthcare and biopharma sector remain at the top of the agenda for the government alongside a deliberate programme of partnerships, which are aimed at bringing the best-in-class to Abu Dhabi. We’re confident that these partnerships will help us to bolster our global collaboration in healthcare.

The ambition is to ensure Abu Dhabi is a globally recognised destination for trusted and advanced healthcare infrastructure, with a track record of excellence and fast-growing, data-enabled services. One example of this approach is being delivered by Malaffi, the region’s first health information exchange platform, which securely links all of Abu Dhabi’s hospitals. Malaffi now connects 2 billion unique medical records from more than 7 million patients who have received treatment in Abu Dhabi.

The healthcare sector in the country is dynamic and constantly evolving so responsible innovation is allowing us to meet evolving population needs. Abu Dhabi is focussing on expanding the role that technology plays throughout the healthcare sector, and entities like the Department of Health play a leading role in the country’s 10-year digital transformation strategy.

As part of this strategy, we have been consistently funding research and investing in cutting-edge technologies, with the impact of this investment expanding beyond our country into the region and the world. For instance, in 2023, the Federal Ministry of Finance allocated Dh4.8 billion ($1.3 billion) to the national healthcare sector, 7.6% of the total annual budget.

This has been further supported through the establishment of a Research and Innovation Centre, which has a key role in attracting the world’s best researchers and innovators but also serves as a hub to advance global healthcare solutions. The centre covers areas such as genomics, big data, precision medicine, assistive technology, the Internet of medical things, nanomedicine, drug discovery, genetics, and epigenetics amongst others.

This is about ensuring that Abu Dhabi and the UAE have one of the world’s best healthcare systems so that we can be ready to serve the nation’s needs in the future.

Dr Asmaa (2) 1ET Spotlight

Q2: Growing and attracting healthcare talent—in clinical medicine and research and development—as well as creating centres of excellence is integral to the UAE Health 2071 strategy and remains crucial for future-proofing healthcare. How is the Abu Dhabi Department of Health (DoH) seeking to achieve success in this area?
Human capital is an essential part of the overall system and we want to be in a position where we’re attracting the brightest and the best medical practitioners to the UAE, alongside the development of our homegrown talent. It’s a competitive environment and there are lots of nations who are also looking to replicate our success in this area. It’s something we need to continually focus upon.

DoH is upskilling the right people as an essential prerequisite for implementing and ensuring the smooth application of advancement in the healthcare system. One of our key priorities in Abu Dhabi is to build a robust workforce that continues to attract the best talent to live and work in Abu Dhabi. As you’ve seen in the growth of the local population and the predictions for further rises, that strategy is working and more experts are choosing to base themselves in this region.

We believe that the future of health lies in responsible innovation and its implementation. It is important not only to find solutions and technological advancements but also to embed them within our healthcare system while securing a highly skilled workforce to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the sector.

We have been attracting talent and strengthening our partnerships with leading global healthcare providers and institutions to enable our capabilities at home. We are providing a hub for collaboration, responsible innovation, and investment that can make good health and quality care a universal standard. Our belief in those values is ensuring the UAE strategy comes to life and is delivered successfully.

DoH knows that researchers and a highly qualified healthcare workforce are attracted to work in countries or cities that enjoy an agile regulatory ecosystem and can provide opportunities for advanced practices in the field whether in research, clinical trials/practice, leadership and management, or education. We aim to ensure that Abu Dhabi is seen as a global leader in that regard and events like ADGHW are integral to promoting that work amongst healthcare practitioners globally.

Q3: Manufacturing capabilities are also central to building a self-sustaining infrastructure. How is the DoH working with global partners to size up its current health manufacturing capabilities?
Our current partnerships span a variety of fields and aspects of healthcare where we seek collaboration on digitisation, genomics, and AI-based innovation solutions for diagnosis and treatment.

The Department of Health works with local strategic partners such as the sovereign wealth fund, Mubadala, and international life science and tech companies such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Roche, AbbVie Biopharmaceutical, M42, Plug and Play, and so on. Those partnerships are critical to elevate our knowledge base and ensure we are consistently developing our capabilities. They have been integral to the improvements we’ve brought online in Abu Dhabi.

That approach is prevalent in other areas such as the strategic partnership between the Cleveland Clinic and the Fatima bint Mubarak Centre, which is steering this collaboration and cooperation to leverage an advanced global research network and facilitate clinical trials, positioning Abu Dhabi at the forefront of personalised cancer treatment innovation. We are bringing internationally known brands together with local partners so that Abu Dhabi is not only a centre of excellence and home for responsible innovation, but also plays a role in developing healthcare knowledge globally.

One of the best examples of partnership has been witnessed in the development of the Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), which is a PureHealth asset. It now encompasses over 14,000 staff, 14 hospitals, and more than 70 primary and ambulatory care clinics as of last year. It’s recognised as the largest healthcare service provider in Abu Dhabi and is an example of how PureHealth has helped to add scale to the healthcare sector here.

PureHealth is also a partner of the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre (ADSCC), which successfully manufactured the UAE’s first CAR-T cells to treat an 11-year-old boy with leukemia last year. The engineered CAR-T cell therapies were recognised as a breakthrough in blood cancer treatment.

The procedure involved manufacturing the cellular product (CAR-T), which relies on the use of immune cells from the patient, at ADSCC’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) laboratories. The treatment took five weeks and physicians withdrew the cells from the patient and genetically modified his immune cells in the laboratory to fight the cancer cells after intravenously injecting them into the patient.

This example is just one area where Abu Dhabi has looked to innovate so that we can deliver solutions to patients. It’s an area we’re keen to develop further and innovation will remain a central component of our ongoing strategy. We want Abu Dhabi to be a place where manufacturing companies operating in the healthcare space recognise that this is the best site to be based to further their own ambitions.

Q4: Health research is a priority to the UAE, growing at a rate three times faster than the global average with 80% of health research published by the UAE being conducted in partnership with international institutions. How is ADGHW accelerating synergies and what opportunities is that providing?
Abu Dhabi has sought to grow its thriving medical education and training capacity by offering top-quality education across its academic institutions, bolstered by key partnerships with leading international medical schools and programs. As a result, we currently have 16 research universities and more than 72 authorized facilities to conduct human subject research.

Strategic international partnerships are an essential part of our approach to local capacity building in the healthcare system. In a world where individuals can receive different care depending on their location, we aim to make good health and quality care a universal standard.

In addition, we’re seeing that cross-border cooperation is also a key driver to bringing forward the future of healthcare – equipping us with the solutions and resilience needed to solve tomorrow’s challenges. Borderless collaboration and access to digital tools in healthcare are a global responsibility that benefits everyone.

DoH believes that the future of health will lie in innovation and its implementation. It is important not only to find solutions and technological advancements but also to embed them within our healthcare system here in Abu Dhabi while securing a highly skilled workforce to ensure the longevity and sustainability of the sector.

We have been strengthening our partnerships with leading global healthcare providers and institutions to enable our capabilities at home and provide a hub for collaboration, responsible innovation, and investment to make good health and quality care a universal standard.

That work has also created opportunities in the digital space. There’s now an Abu Dhabi Life Science Hub in the Metaverse, which marks the virtual presence and headquarters for DoH and is allowing for the seamless facilitation of virtual consultations and services, the cultivation of deeper interconnectivity, and the stimulation of interactions amongst all stakeholders in the life sciences industry.

That investment is providing a place where entrepreneurs, investors, medical professionals, and authorities are not just welcomed but actively encouraged to engage in the exchange of knowledge and ideas at the hub. It’s allowing DoH to interact with partners around the world to inspire and enable leaders from across disciplines and geographies to achieve a bold, collective vision for a brighter future of global health.

Q5: The UAE has developed strategies involving all health authorities and laws to promote public health. Where does the UAE see the protection of patient rights in a world where AI and data will increasingly have no borders in the future?
In a world where technologies are consistently pushing the boundaries of global healthcare, whether through digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR), or other advancements, Abu Dhabi remains dedicated to the relentless pursuit of revolutionising its healthcare sector to exceed top international standards. Those standards ensure the protection of data, and we hold patient rights in the highest regard, as you would expect of any leading healthcare authority.

The landscape of healthcare is undergoing a profound transformation with the arrival of precision medicine and personalised healthcare, moving from reactive treatment of disease to a more proactive and personalised view of individual and human health. These advancements are ushering in a new era of tailored and targeted interventions to enhance individual health outcomes. That’s where we see the development of AI and data solutions having their greatest impact and that’s the data that we seek to harness to ensure patient care is ahead of the curve and understanding where we can target necessary healthcare needs.

Precision medicine is not a trend; it will be a revolutionary paradigm shift in healthcare. It involves understanding the unique genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that contribute to an individual’s health profile. This approach recognises that ‘one size fits all’ does not apply to medicine, and each person’s health journey is distinct.

It means tailoring medical interventions based on an individual’s genetic make-up, optimising drug selection, dosage, and treatment modalities. The goal is to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach and deliver healthcare that is truly personalised for each patient.

That is one of the many reasons why DoH is seeking to collaborate on AI-based innovation solutions for diagnosis and treatment. Microsoft recently announced a $1.5 billion investment in Abu Dhabi and M42, one of the partners for ADGHW. An investment of that scale again demonstrates that this region can become a centrepiece for research and essential development into AI, leading to enhanced patient care.

Q6: ADGHW will showcase Abu Dhabi’s healthcare system as an increasingly attractive regional and global medical tourism and healthcare investment destination. What investment flows are currently moving between India and the UAE and what trends are being noticed in this area going forward?
India remains a key target market for the UAE where the nation is recognised as the seventh-largest investor in India, reflecting the historic and geographical ties between the two countries. Over US$ 18 billion was invested in the country during 2023 and that continues an ongoing pattern between the two nations. The healthcare sector in India is already estimated to be worth around US$ 372 billion so the existing links and the opportunity between our two nations are evident.

There are many reasons why India has been able to grow the healthcare sector such as affordable treatments and the use of advanced technology, alongside its access to international markets but its ability to export that knowledge has also enabled Abu Dhabi to benefit and develop its own medical offer.

Looking at trends, as well as the developments seen in precision medicine, both countries are dealing with similar issues and looking to share their knowledge and develop solutions. We’re both facing aging populations where chronic disease management will be integral to the future healthcare system and services. We are also witnessing a substantial increase in chronic diseases, coupled with a demographic shift towards an aging population. As life expectancy increases, we see a growing need for long-term care and support services.

Addressing issues related to mobility, cognitive health, and maintaining a good quality of life as the population ages becomes paramount. However, we seek not just to treat illnesses, but to provide holistic and preventative care that enhances the overall well-being of our population. Healthcare dynamics are evolving all the time. It’s a dynamic sector so constant responsible innovation is required to keep meeting the needs of an evolving population and we share similar situations both here in the UAE and India.

We will continue to work closely with Indian healthcare researchers, policymakers, technologists, and healthcare industry leaders and experts on these opportunities in the years to come, and our partnerships there are some of the strongest we have. Investors and healthcare providers from the Indian sub-continent were some of the main partners at ADGHW and we’re confident those relationships will stay strong in the years ahead.