-By Dr. Kambiz Shekdar, PhD
With Chinese spy balloons over American skies as the backdrop, China is winning ground over American national and business interests around the world. The Arab Gulf states are actively pouring oil money to create a new biopharma sector in the Middle East. Once a research leader, America is struggling to maintain its relevance while China extends its lead in the global race. According to Yousif Almahdi, MBA of the U. S. Embassy in Kuwait, the role of the U. S. Commercial Service (which is part of the U. S. Department of Commerce) in the Gulf region is to support U.S. companies to do business through more than 80 international posts, as well as domestic offices in the United States.
There is no legacy biopharma in the Arab Gulf states of the Middle East. Right now is the formative time when countries are selecting which platform biotechnologies they may adopt apart of their foundation. Much like when a company chooses between an Apple or IBM, significant downstream ramifications follow. America has become disregarded PC bypassed by China’s gleaming MAC.
Dr. Kambiz Shekdar (left) with Yousif Almahdi, MBA, Commercial Specialist at Embassy of the United States of America in Kuwait at the USA Pavilion at Arab Health Exhibition at Dubai World Trade Center. credit: Secondcell Bio.
In the biotech department, the United Arab Emirates arguably leads among its neighbors, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia coming in a solid second place. In addition to billions in investment in early tech, the UAE is already an international destination, a prerequisite for the ability to attract the new talent that’s needed to build the new economy. Meanwhile Saudi is not shyly doubling down by investing preposterous wealth to catch up, including the building of a new $500B floating tech-park in the proximity of Israel in the Red Sea like Manhattan’s Little (Diller) Island, but bigger and more useful.
Chinese government and business interests have already sunk their teeth into the UAE.
According to Akinola Abayomi, Minster of Health in Lagos, Nigeria, this follows a playbook the Chinese have been playing in recent years throughout Africa. In the void of American biotech entrepreneurs in the region, Chinese interests have swooped in and become favorite partners. G42, an Emirati partnership between the UAE and the Chinese pioneered the UAE’s vaccine response to Covid, one major pillar of a multi- pronged approach the UAE implemented to defeat the virus. In addition, G42 leads the national human genome sequencing project in the UAE, known as the Emirati Genome Project.
When the United States invested in a massive public-private partnership to produce the first draft of the human genome, technologies like CRISPR that could action that data into new medical drugs and therapies were not yet known or mature. Now as the biopharma sector in the UAE is forming, however, vast troves of genomic data may be harnessed to produce the medicines of the future. And it is the Chinese who are playing the assist role, buying themselves a front row seat to form additional strategic partnerships to mine the rich treasure trove. U.S. representatives are now acutely aware of Chinese balloon as well as China’s dominance in the Middle East and Africa. As a U.S. biotech inventor and entrepreneur looking to move to the UAE and set up shop, I had the opportunity to meet with a gathering of representatives from U. S. Embassies and U. S. Commercial Service offices from throughout the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), a regional, intergovernmental, political, and economic union comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates on the occasion of the Arab Health Exhibition in Dubai World Trade Center which was held from January 30 to February 2, 2023.
My goal is to establish a joint venture with Emirati stakeholders in the UAE to create a research engine that may be operated to discover new medical drugs at an unprecedented scale. The research engine would be build using a multi-use platform biotechnology originating from The Rockefeller University that has, among other things, produced a novel non-addictive painkiller that was the subject of an IPO filing by Chromocell Therapeutics in January 2023. My aim is to partner the by-now validated research engine with oil money in the UAE to discover and commercialize a plethora of new medical drugs.
Once established, such an Emirati-American biotechnology facility could open the floodgates for additional American businesses to explore opportunities in the Middle East while serving as a catalyst for the nation’s efforts to kick-start their biotech economy. This has potential for relationships that are richer and more strategic than vendor-supplier relationships alone, exactly what is needed to counter aggressive actions of countries that do not stop short of deploying spy balloons.
“Good morning Kambiz. We are approached by a Dubai based investment firm — but I am not familiar with the entity. Given UAE’s focus on biotech, I would sincerely appreciate your introduction/reference,” wrote the CEO of an IPO-ready U.S. company with a valuation north of $1B USD. Ever since taking to my LinkedIn account to post experiences I found eye-opening, dozens of friends and colleagues have reached out like this (To connect on LinkedIn, go here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kambiz- shekdar‑51a52a34).
There are not many examples of U.S. biotech inventors and entrepreneurs like me making the move to the Middle East. China has already taken lead, and the world’s future healthcare economy is at stake. By working closely with other American business owners, my Emirati partners and U.S. representatives, perhaps we may be able to at least contend for some of these opportunities.
For those who are interested or for biotech colleagues curious about the new biopharma sector growth in the Middle East, follow my column in WestView News. Also, following the meeting with U.S. representatives at Arab Health, Mr. Almahdi of the U. S. Embassy in Kuwait asked if he could make a recording of my rationale for moving to the region and biotech plans for the region to share among additional colleagues of his.
Rockefeller University alumnus and biotech inventor Dr. Kambiz Shekdar, PhD is co-founder and former Chief Scientific Officer of Chromocell Corporation, President of Research Foundation to Cure AIDS and CEO of Secondcell Bio. Contact email@example.com