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Saudi Arabia’s $3.9 billion investment to become biotech’s global leader

Government-led initiatives like the National Biotechnology Strategy helped in streamlining the kingdom’s regulatory framework for trials, testing and bioethics.

Saudi Arabia’s $3.9 billion investment to become biotech’s global leader
[Source photo: Anvita Gupta/Fast Company Middle East]

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Saudi Arabia is positioning itself as a prominent biotech hub globally, thanks to a substantial $3.9 billion investment made in the sector since 2021, reveals new data.

The report, “Accelerating Saudi Arabia’s Biotechnology Sector,” published by Strategy& Middle East, highlights the various research and development initiatives taking place in the industry.

Labs and innovation initiatives like the Saudi Human Genome Program and the Saudi Network for Clinical Trials have enabled the country to develop a leading biotech cluster. By collaborating with the private sector, supporting clinician-researchers, and commercializing potential technologies, Saudi Arabia is poised to establish itself as a prominent player in the biotech industry.

In addition to labs and innovation initiatives, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and the King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center have made substantial investments in infrastructure. Concurrently, government-led efforts like the National Biotechnology Strategy have played a crucial role in streamlining Saudi Arabia’s regulatory framework for trials, testing, and bioethics. 

Saudi Arabia’s biotech-focused venture programs are gaining traction. In 2022, Damman Valley, a biotech and healthcare investment company, launched its biotech startup program, signaling the growing interest and support for biotech startups in the country.

PwC estimated that mergers and acquisitions in the US pharmaceuticals and life sciences sector alone could reach $225 billion to $275 billion in 2023.

“The health, social and economic benefits of a thriving biotech sector in Saudi Arabia are significant,” Walid Tohme, Partner with Strategy& Middle East. “Biotechnologies, with their ability to develop groundbreaking technologies and medical products, can revolutionize not just the national non-oil economy, but everything from the chemicals industry to agriculture, food security, and human health.”

According to the report, fostering continued growth in the biotechnology sector necessitates policymakers and the private sector to concentrate on four crucial factors: increasing public and private funding for commercialization, expanding the human capital and talent pipeline, developing infrastructure, and establishing a robust regulatory framework with incentives.

In 2021, Saudi Arabia’s total R&D expenditure amounted to $3.9 billion. However, the report emphasized the necessity for further investment in training and commercialization of marketable products. Specifically, it urged increased private venture funding to foster the country’s dynamic and thriving biotech ecosystem.

“Regional private investors, including investment funds, family offices, and banks, need further education on biotech investments’ characteristics and risk profile, and how such investments can realize Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Saudi Vision 2030,” he said.

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