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Coating 2 room during an in-depth tour of Pharmax Pharmaceutical’s manufacturing facility at Dubai Science Park. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Dubai: Only 20 per cent of medication in the UAE is produced locally, but within 5-7 years the country could become self-sufficient when it comes to producing basic medicines, according to the CEO of a local pharmaceutical plant.

“We’re a long way from becoming self-sufficient in the higher tech medicines,” said Madhukar Tanna, CEO of Pharmax Pharmaceuticals in Dubai Science Park, one of just five pharmaceutical plants here in the UAE along with the likes of Julphar, Global Pharma, Lifepharma and Neopharma.

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Madhukar Tanna, CEO of Pharmax Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

“It will take 5-7 years to become self-sufficient in basic meds and maybe in the next 10 years we can become self-sufficient in higher tech meds too, but for now the idea is to produce the basic meds locally so it’s cheaper, so that budget can be spent on bringing in the higher tech products.

Interviews with both Madhukar Tanna and Marwan Abdulaziz Al Janahi Roudha Mejren, Staff Reporter

“It’s not impossible,” he added of developing higher tech meds, “But it would require more investment. Investment in our plant is Dh125 million but to produce the more complex medicines, investment would need to be three times more than that, so not it’s impossible, but these are the constraints.

“Pharmax started with an idea to produce high quality and affordable medicine in the UAE,” he added.

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Dh125 million was invested in the plant but it will take three times more to produce higher tech meds Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

“As you know access to medicine is a major concern around the world. As medicine prices go up the access decreases, so we decided to put up a state of the art facility.

“In 2015 the idea was materialised, we got the funding and the construction started. It was completed in 2018 where we then decided to obtain EU approval of this facility to show to UAE authorities that we are the first EU approved facility. We managed to secure that approval before a single tablet was produced. We produce locally medicine for chronic conditions, this was not available prior, things like diabetes, a lot of people suffer from it here, so we have a product range for diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol,” said Tanna.

Pharmax is located in Dubai Science Park in Barsha South, a business community that serves the local science sector and supports entrepreneurs, start-ups, SMEs as well as multinational enterprises, and offers the region its first private laboratories.

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Marwan Abdulaziz Al Janahi, Managing Director of Dubai Science Park Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

“Our vision from the beginning was to provide a complete value chain. Where does the product start and where does it end? We looked at research and development aspects and manufacturing, logistics, sales and marketing until it reaches the patient. This entire Dubai Science park was built to accommodate each step of the journey,” said Marwan Abdulaziz Janahi, Managing Director of Dubai Science Park.

Benefiting the UAE consumer

There are numerous benefits to the launch of this locally based facility that produces medication specifically for the UAE based consumer.

Tanna believes that UAE consumers would have a sense of reassurance knowing the products are overseen by the UAE officials, “Firstly, the Ministry of Health and Prevention are maintaining the quality of the product locally. Secondly, self-sufficiency is imperative. Depending on another country’s supply in medication could be difficult if that country might be experiencing issues and cannot export the medication.”

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Tanna estimates that locally produced medicines are 40-60 per cent cheaper than those shipped in from abroad. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

The UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention control the prices of all medication produced locally ensuring that medication remains affordable and attainable to all, which is another major benefit of local production in the pharmaceutical industry. Tanna estimates that locally produced medicines are 40-60 per cent cheaper than those shipped in from abroad. Local production also brings in US$600 million into the UAE economy every year, he says.

Mental illnesses are also a priority

A conversation that has begun around the UAE openly is mental illness and awareness of the importance of removing the stigma associated to ensure that people are comfortable enough to seek the help they need. Pharmax understands this need in the UAE and places high important in the production of mental illness medication. CEO of Pharmax, Tanna says, “Mental illness is one of our most important subjects. I come from a mental illness background in the industry. We produce anti-depressants, anti-migraine drugs, anti-psychotic products and medication to help anxiety and sleep. The stigma is already reducing regarding mental illness. People are now more vocal and they’re freely speaking about mental illness and taking medications. Even insurance companies are giving access to mental illness medication. That’s why you find we are focusing on those medications. Response has been great now, because psychiatrists have tried our product and they believe that the quality is as good as any other important medicines. Now they’ve started prescribing our medication to a wide number of patients suffering from anxiety, depression or migraines, all of which are important areas in the medical industry.”

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Local production also brings in US$600 million into the UAE economy every year, says Tanna. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Gulf News took a tour of their facility in Dubai Science Park this week and witnessed first hand the journey of each tablet from the laboratory to coating and packaging.

Year long process of all medicine

  1. All active and inactive pharmaceutical ingredients are tested for required quality. Active Pharmaceutical ingredient must have European or US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved as far UAE regulations are concerned.
  2. Depending upon the validated process, material goes through either wet granulation or dry granulation followed by drying and blending.
  3. Blended material moves from granulation state either for capsulation or tablet compression.
  4. Compressed tablets are coated based on physiological properties to provide adequate absorption either in stomach or intestine.
  5. Compressed tablets and capsules are sent to packaging.
  6. Once validation of a batch is completed product goes through human trial in US FDA approved facility and in parallel kept for stability at specific temperature and humidity for the duration of the shelf life and periodically tested.
  7. If the human trial report approves the product, an entire document is sent to Ministry of Health and Prevention for approval.
  8. Once MOHAP approves the documents, it goes through a pricing committee.
  9. After getting pricing approval, various local authorities like Dubai Health Authority, Department of Health and insurance companies list the products in their formulary.
  10. Finally, physicians and pharmacist can dispense the product.