The Healthcare and Life Sciences industry in the Middle East is poised for a major shakeup in 2022 and beyond. Much of this change was triggered by the need gaps that took center stage during the pandemic. 

We invited the industry’s most trusted voices to weigh in on the trends-to-watch. The webinar titled ‘Healthcare and Life Sciences in the Middle East: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities in 2022’ revealed the must-know industry trends to examine how they affect the talent landscape for this sector. 

Vocal for Local

Leaders in this industry have predicted a greater push towards local manufacturing rather than depend on imports. The pandemic revealed the cracks in the global supply chain, prompting countries to strengthen local production of medicines where possible. 

“The profile of the countries shows that 85% to 90% of medicines are imported. Middle East will possibly move towards the trend of manufacturing medicines locally rather than importing most of its medicine needs,” said Hassan Herrou, General Manager, Middle East & Africa – CSL Behring. 

Ashraf Allam, CEO – Pharmaceutical Investment Company at the Public Investment Fund, agreed and explained, “COVID-19 has triggered governments to localize more urgently. They know now that they cannot be at the mercy of imports. Local manufacturing is also crucial to create high quality jobs.”

While acknowledging the opportunity for the growth of local manufacturing, Jeffrey Kemprecos, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy – GSK, talked about the importance of keeping an eye on the big picture. “No country today is self-sufficient in pharmaceuticals. What the pandemic demonstrated is the importance of resilient global supply chains. You can have all the components to make essential medicine, but you will probably need to import that one piece of machinery from Germany, for example,” he said.

In recruitment, this trend was perhaps seen most in Saudi Arabia. Locals were preferred for roles like medical representatives within the pharmaceutical industry due to the regulations implemented to drive Saudization.

The local pool of talent is increasing continuously since the beginning of the pandemic. But companies are having to think outside the box when recruiting. “In Saudi Arabia, people are moving from pharma to medical devices or from healthcare to pharma, and vice-versa. Soft skills are critical in markets now, especially adaptability and flexibility. It is exciting that Saudi Arabia recorded its first appointment of a female CEO or medical director in Eli Lilly pharma company in Riyadh. She is a Saudi national who didn’t come from the pharma industry but is doing a great job,” said Andy Georgeson, PageGroup’s Senior Manager, Healthcare and Life Sciences - Middle East.

Partnerships and Collaborations will Drive Growth and Innovation 

The pandemic demonstrated that the industry stands to benefit most when government and private sector join hands to work together, with the former offering incentives and the latter bringing the best talent and willpower to promote growth. 

“A big trend is that healthcare management is moving from private to public. In this, insurance becomes important; market access is critical. The prospects are good for pharma companies. The government also stands to benefit from forging partnerships with local pharma companies,” said Hassan. 

Ashraf called the power of collaboration the new health continuum. His advice to multi-national companies is to shift their mindset from being a supplier of finished goods to, instead, increase partnerships and collaborate more. “Otherwise, business will not be sustainable. The time and structure of strategic partnerships should also change. Companies should move away from classical manufacturing and supply chains to take equity stakes, for example. That way, companies will have a lot more skin in the game when there are partnerships between MNCs and local manufacturers.”

The speakers also talked about the importance of innovation in attracting investments and partnerships.

“Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to play a leadership role in innovation, and should be used as a hub to export innovations and technologies,” said Ashraf.

Brandon Rowberry, CEO Digital Healthcare – Aster DM Healthcare, said that startups in the space especially stand to benefit from collaborations. He said, “Established companies are collaborating with startups, in which the startups can use the large data sets from these companies to run algorithms, experiment and get their proofs of concept in a confident fashion rather than if they had smaller data sets. Such collaborations are taking place across the entire healthcare and pharma ecosystem.” 

Regulatory Affairs: Government and Industry Relationship 

There was consensus among the speakers on the importance of a consultative, collaborative approach between industry leaders and policymakers in the government to reach solutions about how to improve the industry. Jeffrey said, “The countries that took the lemons out of the pandemic and turned it into lemonade in terms of speeding up the regulatory systems and moving towards emerging new technologies are the ones that received investments.”

He said that the top 20 countries leading the HLS industry attract 80% of the global investment. Countries in the Middle East don’t want to be among the 180 countries that are chasing the remaining 20% of global investment. The competition is to get into the top 20. 

The Middle East has been sending mixed message in the healthcare industry with regards to competitiveness, benchmarking, dialogue with industry and setting up counsels. But Abu Dhabi stands apart as a model that the rest can follow. 

The GCC countries must reflect on their pricing policy, regulatory systems, product licensing processes, taxation, and labor policies, and compete policy while asking how what they offer plays out at the quality edges. Also, how can they get the comparative advantage? 

Ashraf talked about the importance of not competing but collaborating. “You can build 100 manufacturing sites but if they are all serving the very same thing, then that is not very efficient. I would encourage the private sector to look at areas where there are unmet needs and to start investing in capital expenditure and building facilities for the future.” 

The Talent Hunt Ramped Up 

Since COVID-19, recruitment in the HLS sector bounced back the quickest but also faced some of the highest pressures. In the UAE, and also the whole world, the urgent demand for nurses and lab technicians to fight Covid and the PCR program battle, created a bidding war between institutions for talent. Thankfully, the regional borders opened up relatively quickly enabling the Middle East to recruit healthcare talent from around the world to support its demand. 

Introduction of the golden visas in the UAE for healthcare and frontline workers was a great incentive for talent to move. “In this environment of change, talent retention took top priority as employers needed to ensure that they are providing other alternatives to just a financial incentive to attract and retain new talent,” said Andy. 

Sales and marketing, regulatory affairs, market access, quality, digital and data are all in high demand for talent as companies look to develop their product and service range while meeting the government directives for maintaining high standards. “We have to be creative in key selection criteria, looking at skillsets and cultural alignments rather than what product you have worked with before, or what end users have you dealt with before,” said Andy. In this, our strengths as a leading recruitment company in the region were optimized during the pandemic as its market-leading recruitment expertise expands to all areas of HLS, including pharmaceutical, medical devices, public and private care, biotech, R&D and medical professionals, doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, too. 

“Using our local understanding of this market we were able to connect businesses with the right professionals to fill all roles from junior through to executives. It helped that many of our recruitment consultants have backgrounds in HLS, either from education or work experience,” Andy added. 

Upping the Ante on Digital in Healthcare

Digital technology emerged as one of the most powerful tools to manage healthcare during the pandemic.

“COVID-19 made us skip a decade in digital health. If you talked to me in mid-2019 about where we would be in digital healthcare in 2029, I would say it is almost where we are now. It rocket-fueled right up there,” said Brandon. 

The adoption rates of technology shot through the roof, setting aside what would otherwise be lengthy trial-and-training periods. The convenience and urgent need for technology closed the gap of digital innovation in healthcare. 

Patients adopted technology so quickly that they are demanding that digital healthcare be treated like every other type of online transaction. “For a wholesome customer experience, we need consumer-friendly apps, data at the ready, medical records available and accessible, and the ability to use technology to treat patients far away from the hospital and medical services area,” said Brandon. 

For all this, talent is critical. “I am building a digital team now and we are looking for talent from all industries to set new expectations for what healthcare can do,” said Brandon. Ashraf added, “We are moving towards a hybrid model where face-to-face interactions will be minimized in favor of digital transactions. This change will impact investments, which will have to be reallocated accordingly.” 

Andy chimed in, and shared the experience of recruiting in this environment. “The pandemic changed how even Michael Page, a globally leading recruitment and head-hunting firm, operated. We have certainly become more productive. We are able to screen and interview more profiles because we don’t have the travel time anymore meeting people face to face.”

A New Dawn

The HLS industry in the Middle East is witnessing many shifts. Key industry players are changing, with smaller, emerging players entering the business. Private equities are seriously looking at making acquisitions within the pharma industry. Many family businesses that didn’t express interest in healthcare and pharma are now seriously considering investing in it, changing the landscape of this sector significantly.

“To sustain in this competitive and evolving market, companies must move forward from the traditional pharma model where we are undertaking clinical trials and supplying the market only with finished goods. Instead, companies must (while being part of clinical trials) discuss with health authorities and physicians to build strategic partnerships,” said Hassan. 

The future looks different, and one that will be rooted in research, partnerships and technology. Talent will be in great demand in these areas of business, attracting the best from all around the world. 2022 will, no doubt, be an exciting year of growth and innovation for this sector.

You can watch the webinar recording. For more talent trends in Healthcare and Life Sciences, download our ebook

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