Dubai will have its own regulator for the biotech industry by 2010, according to the head of the emirate’s first biotechnology park. The regulatory body will act in a similar way to the Dubai Financial Services Authority, which oversees the finance sector from the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), said Dr Abdulqader Al Khayat, Executive Director at Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park (Dubiotech).
“The biotech regulator will be a separate body, which will function under the Tecom Authority. We are looking at a period of two years after operations begin,” he added.
The park is expected to be fully operational by September next year.
Al Khayat (pictured above) said the regulatory team is currently part of the Dubiotech structure for the sake of easy access.
“When the companies at the [research] park mature, which will take a year or two, the regulatory team will be spun off into a separate regulator. The intention is to make Dubiotech one of the best regulated biotech zones in the world,” he said.
In several other countries, the industry has been exasperated with long waits and complaints about lack of transparency. In India the absence of a professional regulator meant that it took four years of trials to clear the first variety of the controversial Bt cotton – manufactured by Monsanto – and another two years to clear three more varieties of the same gene of cotton.
Biotechnology companies based at the Dubai park are upbeat about the prospect of having a regulator.
“The setting up of an independent regulatory authority will go a long way to ensuring international best practice in the domestic biotech industry. Environmental and bio-safety clearance are two of the most important issues at present with regard to regulation,” said Nabeel Fazal, Managing Director, Eppendorf, a German biotechnology firm based at Dubiotech.
Pankaj Sohany, head of international business at Eastern Biotech, a Dubai-based biotech firm specialising in genetics testing services, argued Dubiotech is failing to attract research and development [R&D] firms because of the lack of adequate regulations
“Once the regulatory framework is laid down and passed into the hands of an independent body, top R&D companies will want to use Dubai as their regional hub,” he said.
International leaders in the biotech space like United States-based Amgen and India’s Biocon have set up their units in the park.
Amgen said Dubai is the “ideal platform” to centralise its regional operations. The biotech company set up its regional hub in Dubiotech last year.
“In the absence of strong regulation, companies may come here with the specific intent of research activities prohibited in other parts of the world,” said a senior industry professional, who did not wish to be named.
Dubiotech is being built at a cost of more than $400 million (Dh1.46 billion).
Al Khayat, who has previously worked as a forensics expert with the Dubai Police, joined the park as Executive Director in 2005.
His vision is to make it part of Dubai’s long-term plan to create a strong diversified knowledge-based economy.
He expects the park to be fully operational by April 2009 and said he had received a lot of interest from pharmaceutical companies and local investors.
Al Khayat added the biotech park is also well guarded against exploitation by biotech companies coming here to carry out stem-cell research and other controversial activities. The park has only approved applications from reputed firms.
“We have reviewed each application based on the previous track record and business plan of the companies. We have 30 companies, including international leaders such as Amgen and India’s Biocon. We have rejected six to seven applications for failing to meet our health and safety compliances.”
Dubiotech has affiliated itself with the US-based Research Triangle Institute International to develop its current regulations.
Al Khayat added: “The transfer of knowledge is not a big issue anymore, especially since Dubai is already a business hub.
“There are already big international companies from different sectors present in Dubai and I don’t think biotechnology will be any different.
“Dubiotech will create 20,000 jobs when fully-operational, all of these will be high-tech positions.”
Saudi and Qatar thrust
Saudi Arabia and Qatar are setting up initiatives in the field. Established in 2002, Jeddah BioCity – a research facility with ties to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center – is constructing state-of-the-art biotechnology laboratories.
Qatar is keen on creating a culture conducive to biotech, but it is first focusing on building the research and academic environment necessary for the industry.
The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community, based in Education City on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, Doha, has forged partnerships with several leading American institutions.
A global first
Established as a free zone under the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority, Dubiotech aims to accelerate the region’s biotechnology industry. “We want to create conditions that support scientific research and biotech production in the region,” said Al Khayat.
The park is being built on a 300-hectare area located close to the Dubailand project.
The park will cover 30 million square feet of built-up area. Its infrastructure offering will comprise research and development facilities, such as laboratories and incubators as well as office space and residential facilities. The lab development of Dubiotech will be complete by September 2008. Full operations should begin by April 2009, according to Al Khayat.
To encourage new ventures, Dubiotech will have a specialised funding arm that will provide financial assistance to research initiatives.
Currently, 30 companies have been issued licences to operate within the park. “We have rejected around six applications this year for failing to meet our standards on ethical, environmental, health and safety parameters,” said Al Khayat.
Among the firms that have signed up to set up regional hubs are US-based Amgen and Genzyme, India-based Biocon and Avistagen and Germany’s Merk Serono and Eppendorf.