Currently Julphar's biggest export market is Saudi Arabia, accounting for 34 per cent of its sales. More than 80 per cent of the plant's capacity will be exported. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries (Julphar) plans to export locally-made insulin to about 40 countries in the GCC, Middle East, Europe and South Asia next year, Dr Ayman Sahli, the company's chief executive, told Gulf News.

The Ras Al Khaimah based company will begin making insulin from December at a total cost of Dh500 million. The 20,000 square metre factory has the capacity to produce 45 million vials of insulin.

More than 80 per cent of the plant's capacity will be exported, Dr Al Sahli said. Currently its biggest export market is Saudi Arabia, accoiunting for 34 per cent of Julphar sales which amounts to Dh380 million in 2011, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

To commercialise its insulin product in multiple international markets, Julphar is now seeking approval from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said Dr Al Sahli.

The London-based agency is responsible for scientifically evaluating medicines developed by pharmaceutical companies for use in the European Union.

The product will be registered in Europe based on test samples that were given a nod by the EMA, he said.

"We have a big plan to go to the Middle East and as far as Malaysia and Indonesia. Even Europe, if the business opportunity presents itself... The scope of the business is not to go worldwide but in 30 or 40 countries around us," said Dr. Al Sahli.

Exporting will begin in 2012, depending on the regulations and process of approval in various countries, he added.

By manufacturing insulin locally, the company aims to lower costs and ensure regular supply for the growing number of diabetes patients in the region. In the UAE alone, one in four nationals has diabetes, according to government statistics.

"Insulin should be used regularly and cannot depend on a lack of supply or a delayed shipment. UAE residents should feel the difference in terms of price, availability, preferential treatment for the local market and have a price lower than the competitor," said Dr Al Sahli.

For governments, local insulin production means introducing a competitive product in the market that will reduce expenses for local and regional governments. The region spends up to 13 per cent of government health care expenditure on combating diabetes and its related diseases while the UAE spends 8 per cent, he said. "There will be a big impact on expense for the Ministry [of Health], we save the country a certain expense. The business of Julphar in the market will force competitors to reduce the price," Dr Al Sahli said.

Government tenders will not always go to the Eur-opean companies whose costs are higher because of shipment and other costs.

The UAE's dependency on imported insulin will also drop and its exports of the drug will pick up, he added.

The company expects the insulin production to boost its growth rates. So far in 2011, the company saw a growth rate of 11 per cent in its overall business across 40 markets, a 20 per cent growth year on year in the private market and 20 per cent drop in the tender market.

Hepatitis drug to be produced locally

Gulf Pharmaceutical industries (Julphar) is planning to make Interfon, a drug used in the treatment of hepatitis, with production projected for 2014, Dr Ayman Al Sahli, its CEO told Gulf News.

"It's complicated and requires a lot of technology. We are in the planning phase. The manufacturing stage will take three years," he said.

Julphar has been in the generic medicine business for 30 years and is planning a shift towards medication that requires advanced technology, greater investment and a talented medical team, he said.

"Medicine is always a dynamic field: there's always a new discovery, new product, new treatment and have to keep up with that, we have a responibility as a big company in the region. Whenever there's a product that's off patent we try to manufacture it to bring it to this region, the price is reduced and the material is available widely," he noted.

The UAE pharmaceutical industry also produces local brands of painkillers and antibiotics. Julphar makes Meebo (a burn ointment), Epotin (for kidney failure), Adol (painkiller for headaches), antibiotics and insulin. Other players in the UAE market include Neopharma and Global Pharma.

Since 2003, Dubai's imports of pharmaceutical products have risen from Dh800 million to Dh3 billion in 2010 while exports too have risen from Dh100 million to Dh400 million over the same period, according to a study by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The UAE pharmaceutical sector faces several challenges as the local manufacturing sector is relatively small and focuses on basic medicines. The market relies on imports for hi-tech medicines. For example, in 2010 nearly 64 per cent of pharmaceutical imports came from Europe, around 8 per cent from North America and another 8 per cent from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region. India is the biggest supplier from Asia and accounts for 5 per cent of total imports, the study showed.

Though local manufacturers are taking initiative, imports of hi-tech medicines are strengthened by the fact that the pace of regional innovation is slower when compared with other rival hubs such as Singapore, and the fact that although improving, domestic patent law is still migrating towards international standards, according to the report.

The prevalence of counterfeit drugs entering and exiting the country is also a problem. Almost one in seven counterfeit items — including 73 per cent of fake medicines — seized at European borders last yearwas routed throughthe UAE, according to a European Commission report last year.