August 18, 2021
COVID-19, beyond the shadow of doubts, has immensely impacted the global economy negatively. Name any sector, be it healthcare, tourism, or retail, just like the Tsunami, Covid-19 eroded revenue and hampered the growth of the market size. The scenario in the MENA region is no different from other regions of the world.
However, as the saying goes, there are two sides to every coin. While COVID-19 robbed off the economic growth in the MENA region, it also acted as bright sunlight after rain that shed light on fertile grounds of the MENA region in terms of the healthcare sector. It offered a bright opportunity for private healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to invest in the research and development of vaccines and therapeutic developments in the region. The region offers abundant opportunities to conduct clinical research and trials. It has led to an increase in international collaborations and an influx of pharma companies to invest in the MENA region.
Over the past few months, the region has witnessed its countries signing various agreements to conduct Phase III clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine candidates in their countries. The China-based CanSino Biologics, in collaboration with Saudi Arabia, is currently in the process of conducting a clinical trial (Phase III) of a vaccine against the novel Coronavirus in the country. The CanSino Biologics carried out the Phase I/II vaccine trial in China. The Phase III trial will be conducted on 5,000 healthy participants above the age of 18 years across multiple cities, including Riyadh, Dammam, and Mecca.
Similarly, Group 42 (G42) (the Abu Dhabi based leading artificial intelligence and cloud computing company) had signed a clinical cooperation agreement with Chinese pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm China National Biotec Group (CNBG). The Sinopharm and Group 42 will conduct the phase III clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine, which is already in the phases I and II clinical trials. The Sinopharm CNBG has generated antibodies after two doses in 28 days, without showing any serious adverse reactions in volunteers during phase I/II study.
Apart from UAE, Bahrain and Jordan have also collaborated with Sinopharm for Coronavirus vaccine trials. The Health Ministry of the Kingdom of Bahrain on 21-August notified that it would conduct the vaccine’s clinical trial. The trial that includes up to 6,000 volunteers over the age of 18 will be administered with an inactive vaccine that will be helpful in studying the effectiveness of antibody production and the acquired protection against the virus. The inactivated vaccine is pre-qualified by the World Health Organisation.
Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), an Israeli research and development laboratory, is working on indigenous vaccines for Covid-19. The vaccine is based on an engineered virus and a monoclonal neutralizing antibodies treatment for the SARS-Cov-2 virus. The IIBR, in collaboration with the Health Ministry, is expected to begin human trials on their Covid-19 vaccine candidate in October.
The other potential Covid-19 vaccine from Israel is in the development process by Migal Gaililee Research Institute. MIGAL is an internationally-recognized multidisciplinary applied research institute working on the Oral coronavirus vaccine.
Iran’s Minister of Health Saeed Namaki had briefed in August that Iran is working on a number of homegrown vaccines. One of its indigenous vaccines developed by The Pasteur Institute of Iran has passed the human models and entered into clinical trials. Similarly, Egypt is also developing an indigenous Covid-19 vaccine. The National Research Centre (NRC), one of the largest multidisciplinary R&D centers in Egypt, has four different types of vaccine candidates in preclinical stages.
No doubt, COVID has wreaked havoc upon the region; however, the region has taken off for its sustained recovery. Albeit, there is no treatment of COVID-19 at the moment, hospitals and physicians are currently relying on various other therapeutic drugs which are used for treating other viral diseases. It feels like the world is fighting the pandemic as well as running in a race to find the cure simultaneously. With more than 150 pharma and biotech companies worldwide, the MENA region appears appealing for conducting research, establishing manufacturing units, and making tie-ups with pharma companies based there to advance in the pharmaceutical market and develop a safe and effective vaccine.