PharmExec Blog

'Freedom of Thought' Key to Middle East Science Progress

A new report from Thomson Reuters points to a “rapidly changing context for science and innovation in the Middle East.”

The Arabian, Persian and Turkish Middle East may currently produce only 4% of the world’s scientific literature, but the output is growing rapidly, according to a new Global Research Report from Thomson Reuters. Indeed, countries such as Iran and Turkey are outpacing Asia and Latin America in rate of increase, the report reveals.

And key to the continuation of scientific progress in the region, writes Egyptian-American chemist Ahmed Zewail in the report’s Foreword, are three essential ingredients: expanding educational opportunities, the establishment of centers of excellence in science and technology, and — particularly prescient given the ongoing unrest in North Africa and the Middle East — the encouragement of “freedom of thought.”

At Thuwai, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology “aims to attract 250 faculty and 2,000 post-graduate students from around the world” in the next 10 years. In Qatar, at Education City, seven US universities have opened campuses. And Abu Dhabi is focusing on developing a more sustainable economy through programs such as the Masdar Initiative, “which will eventually house 50,000 people and 1,500 businesses focused on renewable energy and sustainable technologies.”

As the report says, “historically, the Islamic world is widely recognized as having contributed signally to the foundation of much of the world’s understanding of science.” These new initiatives point to a welcome new emphasis on scientific development in the region. The long-term challenge will be to invest in the education systems in order to “develop a pool of high quality, locally trained graduates and faculty members” to keep such initiatives afloat. Only such institutional growth and development, the report concludes, will sustain the Middle East’s potentially powerful — but as yet “patchy” — scientific resurgence.

This is particularly interesting in that Egypt, Pakistan, and Turkey have been tapped by IMS as leaders of its “pharmerging 17” high-potential markets, followed closely by Saudi Arabia and Jordan. And as Pharm Exec Editor William Looney writes in the March issue of the magazine, the landscape of need in these regions is also promising: “All countries in the region share the common characteristic of youthful populations, high adult literacy, and are experiencing a full-blown transition from infectious to non-communicable disease. Patients want access to modern medicine, and there is a trained professional infrastructure to administer drug therapy. Yet public investment in health services remains low in comparison to other regions.”

For Big Pharma, in evaluating the next stage of the region’s prospects for investment, regime change and democratization will have an impact on the health professions, adds Bill. The definition of share-of-voice ‘elites’ is likely to change. Politically and economically, then, this is a region for the industry to keeps its eyes on.

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One Comment

  1. Posted November 7, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    The middle east’s education system is rapidly changing and advancing. Having taught in the middle east myself, some of the students are really impressive, they just need the basics to work off of and can grow individually from there.

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