INTERVIEW: Humanity is not handling coronavirus pandemic very well, says health care investment chief Helmut Schuehsler

INTERVIEW: Humanity is not handling coronavirus pandemic very well, says health care investment chief Helmut Schuehsler
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Updated 07 June 2020

INTERVIEW: Humanity is not handling coronavirus pandemic very well, says health care investment chief Helmut Schuehsler

INTERVIEW: Humanity is not handling coronavirus pandemic very well, says health care investment chief Helmut Schuehsler
  • Head of TVM Capital on the challenges and opportunities, successes and failures, of the COVID-19 crisis

Helmut Schuehsler has had what you might call a pretty challenging time of late — and it is by no means over.

He runs the health-care investment firm TVM Capital Healthcare from Dubai, at a time when the reputation of the medical business is being called into question due to the scandal over NMC Healthcare. The UAE’s biggest provider has gone bust with more than $4 billion in unaccounted debt.

Schuehsler operates in the private equity investment sphere, which itself is facing bigger issues than ever before, especially in health care and more so in Dubai, after the 2018 collapse of Abraaj Group, once the private equity flagship in emerging markets.

And there is the small issue of the most significant health challenge humanity has faced in over a century — the coronavirus pandemic, which has changed the economic fundamentals of the medical industry beyond recognition in the space of a few months.

“Things are coming apart,” Schuehsler told Arab News on a Zoom call from his house on the Palm, Jumeirah, where he has been self-isolating for the past three months, apart from a couple of visits to the doctor.

He was referring to the global medical infrastructure and specifically to the problems with the World Health Organization (WHO), rather than the TVM business, for which he still sees big opportunities in South East Asia and the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia.

As a professional investor with more than 30 years’ experience in health care, he holds firm views on the way the international community has responded to the pandemic crisis.

“Humanity is not handling this very well. We should have had a strengthening of the WHO. It is irrational to destroy international cooperation in the face of an international challenge. We’re doing things in a very myopic way,” he said.

He uses the term “titration” to describe the policy response of lockdown followed by reopening and, sometimes, reimposition of curfews and travel bans. Titration is a chemical process in which two compounds are mixed together in varying quantities until they neutralize each other.

“It is a case of titrating openness against social distancing. In the beginning, it was all about not overwhelming the capacity of intensive care units to ensure people had access to beds. Now, we are managing better. The public and private sector have made room for that. The first phase of the response — providing critical health care and devices — is coming together,” Schuehsler said.

“Now you’ll see a gradual reopening and closing, again and again. The danger of an exponential growth in infection rates does not go away. If people stop social distancing and we have demonstrations and concerts with thousands of people, it will go exponential tomorrow,” he explained.

He sees some cause for optimism in the work of the pharmaceutical industry — in which TVM has been a big investor over decades — to first develop effective therapeutics and, finally, a vaccine.


BIO

BORN: Vienna, 1959

EDUCATION: PhD in social and economic sciences, business administration, Vienna University of Economic and Business

CAREER

  • Investment manager, Horizonte Venture Management, Vienna
  • Managing partner, TVM Capital, Munich, Germany

  • Chairman and CEO, TVM Capital Healthcare, Dubai


“I think that by the end of this year there will be between two and five drugs that will gain emergency approvals for marketing in Western Europe. That does not mean they will be available worldwide, but availability will be just around the corner, depending on manufacturing times and how long it takes to set up distribution systems. These will prevent people from becoming so sick that they have to go to hospital,” he said.

On the possibility of a vaccine, Schuehsler believes there could be something available by the end of next year. He does not like talk of a “silver bullet” to take out the virus, however, partly due to the long development and processes of testing and approval necessary for vaccines, and partly because of a growing sentiment worldwide against vaccines.

“It’s only a silver bullet if people are actually using it, and we all know there is a growing resistance movement against vaccines, which is unfounded and which endangers people, especially children. If we want to see our children dying again from polio or measles or chicken pox, we should stop vaccinating them,” he said.

The overall response by regional authorities in UAE and Saudi Arabia has been “OK,” he said, especially considering the distraction caused by the volatility in global oil markets.

“The confluence of those two elements — oil and the virus — has caused a difficult situation for governments. They have to spend a tremendous amount in terms of getting their pandemic response up and running,” he said.

Schuehsler was a pioneer of the biotech investment business in Germany, with a network of investors in Europe and the US, before looking at the growing health-care market in the Middle East in 2009.

Now, TVM is also expanding in South East Asia, a region Schuehsler sees as having great potential in the post-pandemic world.

The pandemic will change the way he does business. In the UAE, with its sizeable expatriate populations, some medical services will change as people leave; others have already gone through a period of contraction during the most intense phase of the COVID-19 crisis.

Fertility treatment, for example, via the Bourn Hall clinic in Dubai, saw a sharp decline in business in April, Schuehsler said, though that has recovered “a bit” last month.

About four years ago, he began to look at Saudi Arabia, the biggest health market in the Middle East. The growth there has been patient and deliberate.

“Saudi Arabia is a much larger market, with different economics and setups, but we consider it to be a very attractive area. The country is the focus point of the Middle East.

“You need to believe certain things when it comes to Saudi Arabia. For example, that the Vision 2030, the opening up and diversification of the economy, will still happen even despite the COVID-19 and oil crises. You have to believe that they will stay the course and that things have been simply delayed and not indefinitely postponed. But we are making that assumption,” he added.

TVM does not invest in hospital chains, but rather in more specialist medical businesses: Long-term acute care, home care and disease management, ventilated care, fertility and reproductive treatment, and the manufacture of medical devices via an Egyptian subsidiary.

Schuehsler has expanded from the UAE to the Kingdom via the Manzil Healthcare Services brand in Riyadh and the Cambridge Medical business in Dhahran. The medical devices business recently signed a partnership deal with the well-known Olayan Group to expand distribution in the Kingdom.

He believes there are still opportunities to invest despite the crisis but warns that the investment outlook has changed.

“Deal making is less clear to me. For an investor, this is not a particularly great time because none of us can predict the future. If you look at a company that has lost half its business and you think you can do great deal, then maybe,” he said.

Timing of investment decisions takes on critical importance, he added.

There is also potential in introducing investors from the US and Germany to Saudi partners. 

“There are a lot of German companies that have good connections in Saudi Arabia, and Saudis appreciate German technology and products. There have been many contacts made with the Saudi government and health-care industry. We can help investors from Germany because we have excellent relationships in the Kingdom,” he said.

During his career, Schuehsler has raised more than $1 billion in committed capital from global investors, overseen 120 investments in the health industry, and been involved in more than 80 major transactions over the years, including the lucrative sale of his ProVita International business to NMC in 2015.

He understands the concerns of investors, employees and patients in the health business and how to avoid the pitfalls that have bedeviled health care and private equity recently in the Middle East.

“TVM has all the transparency and governance you could want. We run our business in the Middle East in the exactly same way we would have run it if we’d been in Boston or Munich,” he said.

“I think people look at private equity and health care with suspicion because so many bad things have happened. We get caught in this, but we are the most internationally minded player in the way we build partnerships, the way we compensate people, the way we run our board meetings in portfolio companies.

“That’s what I’m trying to put in place: Openness, transparency and compliance in the markets we invest in. That’s our contribution to broader society,” he added.


UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash

UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash
Updated 30 July 2021

UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash

UAE to build waste-to-energy plants to burn two thirds of trash
  • Dubai is building a $1.1 billion waste-to-energy plant
  • Sharjah, Abu Dhabi also constructing facilities

RIYADH: The UAE plans to build a series of waste incinerators that will eventually burn up to two thirds of the country’s trash to deal with a growing refuse problem.

Dubai is constructing a $1.1 billion waste-to-energy facility, one of the largest in the world, while a smaller plant in being built in Sharjah and will begin operation this year, Bloomberg reported. Two further projects are being built in Abu Dhabi.

Burning trash creates carbon emissions, potentially making it harder for the UAE to reach its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

However, Bee’ah, Sharjah’s waste company, will try to mitigate this by creating green spaces, install a 120-MW solar array on top of the plant and produce hydrogen from the garbage to fuel its rubbish trucks. Sharjah will also be able to close its landfill site.

Bee’ah CEO Khaled Al Huraimel said he wants to export the model across the region, including Saudi Arabia.

While environmentalist favor recycling over burning of trash, turning plastics and other waste into usable products is extremely challenging.

China’s recent ban on the importation of waste “has really changed the economic drivers,” said Mr.John Ord, a UK business director at engineering firm Stantec. “All of a sudden, we have a lot of waste that needs to be dealt with.”


Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level

Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level
Updated 30 July 2021

Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level

Bitcoin tests the $40k resistance level

RIYADH: Bitcoin traded higher on Thursday, rising by 0.03 percent to $39,670.54 at 4:02 p.m. Riyadh time. Ether, the second-most traded global cryptocurrency, was up 0.44 percent to $2,291.72.05, according to data from CoinDesk.

Below is the latest news from the world of cryptocurrency:

Bitcoin buyers have been profitable, as the cryptocurrency tests the $40,000 resistance level. Sentiment has improved significantly over the past week, although some analysts believe it is time to pause before rallying again.

In a CoinDesk report, Justin Chuh, a senior trader at Wave Financial, said: “Bitcoin easily broke through $35,000, but I think it will probably have a harder time going through $40,000 this time.”

But attitudes could easily shift from bullish to bearish as bitcoin was still in a consolidation phase with strong resistance, the report added.

HIGHLIGHT

Bitcoin buyers have been profitable, as the cryptocurrency tests the $40,000 resistance level. Sentiment has improved significantly over the past week, although some analysts believe it is time to pause before rallying again.

Meanwhile, in a research paper published on Wednesday, Bank of America described central bank digital currencies as a more efficient payment system than cash. The second-largest bank in the US by total assets, said that digital central bank currencies could completely replace cash in the distant future.

A report released in May by blockchain infrastructure platform Bison Trails found that around 80 percent of central banks were exploring using digital currencies, with CoinDesk reporting that 40 percent were already testing proof-of-concept programs.

London-based Fabric Ventures has closed a $130 million fund to invest in early stage blockchain companies. One of its supporters is the European Investment Fund, which provided $30 million, marking the first time a European Commission company had invested in a fund focused on digital assets, said CoinDesk.

Stock and cryptocurrency trading app Robinhood has received a $32 billion valuation with its initial public offering and was set to debut on the Nasdaq on Thursday.

In a press statement on Wednesday, Robinhood priced its offering at $38 per Class A common share. The price is at the lower end of the $38 to $42 share price range that the company had targeted, and it planned to sell 5.5 million shares targeting an increase of $1.89 billion.

The firm is trying to reshape its image and said it was working on a new feature that would help protect users from cryptocurrency price volatility, while hiring a former Google graduate to improve the overall product design, according to CoinDesk.


Arab celebrity message app Yela raises $2.2 million funding

Yela has secured over a hundred A-list celebrities who fans can connect with, including Amr Diab. (Supplied)
Yela has secured over a hundred A-list celebrities who fans can connect with, including Amr Diab. (Supplied)
Updated 30 July 2021

Arab celebrity message app Yela raises $2.2 million funding

Yela has secured over a hundred A-list celebrities who fans can connect with, including Amr Diab. (Supplied)
  • The interactions on the platform can range from direct text messages to video clips

JEDDAH: Yela, a platform allowing users to get personalised video messages from their favorite Arab celebrities, has secured $2.2 million in funding, it was announced on Thursday.

Set to launched in August, Yela secured funding from US and UK investors with offices in London, Cairo, and Dubai. Participating from Silicon Valley is Razmig Hoghavian, a board member of Rakuten and General Partner at Graph Ventures.

The application was founded by Alex Eid, who said in a statement: “It’s incredible to see the support that Yela has already received from all sides, investors, celebrity creators, and fans.”

The first round of funding was also led by US investors Justin Mateen, a co-founder of Tinder and the General Partner of JAM Fund, and Sean Rad, a general partner at RAD Fund and also a co-founder of Tinder.

Yela has secured over a hundred A-list celebrities who fans can connect with including Amr Diab, Haifa Wehbe, Youssra, Mohamed Henedy, and Ahmed AlSakka. The interactions on the platform can range from direct text messages to video clips, with prices starting from $100.

 

 


Saudi Arabia to use 4IR to transform energy sector, fight climate change

Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim (L), Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman (C) and Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan at the 4IR forum. (Screenshots)
Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim (L), Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman (C) and Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan at the 4IR forum. (Screenshots)
Updated 29 July 2021

Saudi Arabia to use 4IR to transform energy sector, fight climate change

Economy and Planning Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim (L), Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman (C) and Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan at the 4IR forum. (Screenshots)
  • Ministers laud the technology at forum for Fourth Industrial Revolution in Riyadh
  • 4IR is a way of describing the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds

DUBAI/RIYADH/JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is aiming to use Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology to fundamentally transform the energy sector, enhance the security of its water and food resources, and fight climate change, senior ministers announced.

“Our vision is to transform the energy sector through the application of data and technology,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman said during the 4IR forum in Riyadh on Thursday.

“Saudi Arabia has a rich resource of youthful innovators who can be entrusted with the task of seeing this transformation through to fulfillment. The synergy between youth and technological innovation will make Saudi Arabia a dynamo for the digital transformation of the energy sector.”

4IR is a fusion of advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), genetic engineering, quantum computing, and more. It is a way of describing the blurring of boundaries between the physical, digital, and biological worlds.

The application of 4IR technology in energy will enable the Kingdom to lead the way in the battle against climate change, the Saudi energy minister said. 

“Perhaps the most important area where technology and energy can combine to the benefit, not just of the Kingdom, but of all mankind, is in the search for cleaner energy,” Prince Abdul Aziz said. “Here, we can use the technology of the 4IR to accelerate the energy transition, and meet the goals for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

His view was echoed by Ahmed Al-Zahrani, assistant minister for energy, who highlighted the potential of 4IR technologies like IoT and Blockchain. 

“These will help our endeavors to improve efficiency and reduce emissions,” Al Zahrani said.

The Kingdom is known for its energy security as it has been endowed with huge energy resources, but when it comes to food and water security, the country is facing challenges. Adding 4IR applications can address these challenges, Saudi Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture Abdul Rahman Al-Fadli told the conference. 

Al-Fadli also said 4IR applications such as the use of remote sensors, artificial intelligence, and robotics will help the farming sector in Saudi Arabia as the technologies will provide better data from the fields. He also mentioned that these applications will assist the Kingdom in its plan to plant billions of trees under its green initiative.

“The challenge we all face is to tackle the great issues of the world today, like post-pandemic economic recovery, energy reliability, and sustainability,” Prince Abdul Aziz said.

In other developments from the forum, Ahmed Al-Saadi, senior vice president for technical service at Saudi Aramco, said the oil company had developed its technology for many years, notably in monitoring conditions in oil reservoirs. He said Aramco had made great strides in technology and was among the “best in class” operators in the global energy peer group.

Mohammed Abunayyan, chairman of ACWA Power, the utility developer backed by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, told the forum most of its operations were now digital and that essential maintenance was controlled and managed through digital functions.

Abunayyan also said the involvement of the private sector in the digitization of energy was crucial: “The private sector will always deliver better value than the public utility model.”

Jason Bordoff, Dean of the Columbia Climate School in New York, had a warning about the slow progress towards the Paris Agreement goal of reducing CO2 emissions.

“We are not on track to meet those goals,” he said. “We need emissions to decline faster.”

Melissa Lott, research director at Columbia’s energy policy center, said carbon capture, utilization, and storage — a big element in Saudi Arabia’s Circular Carbon Economy framework — was crucial to efforts in reducing emissions.


New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says

New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says
Updated 30 July 2021

New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says

New center to lead Saudi role in ‘4th industrial revolution’, economic minister says
  • The Saudi minister said the new center will contribute to global discussions on the use of 4IR technology, such as 5G and artificial intelligence

DUBAI: The Saudi Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will lead the Kingdom’s role in utilizing advanced technologies and their local and global implications, Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal bin Fadel Al-Ibrahim said.

The Saudi minister said the new center will contribute to global discussions on the use of 4IR technology, such as 5G and artificial intelligence, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has introduced new challengers to countries.

“COVID-19 intensified the need for data and evidence-based iterative policymaking supported by technology-driven and innovation-based solutions,” he said at the first Saudi 4IR forum held in Riyadh.

The Kingdom has become a global role model in deploying digital technology at peak of the health crisis, Al-Ibrahim said, enumerating Saudi efforts to manage the pandemic.

The Kingdom is known for its energy security as it has been endowed with huge energy resources, but when it comes to food and water security, the country is facing challenges.
(Shutterstock)

Saudi Arabia ranks 4th in the world in 5G connectivity, he added, and a robust digital infrastructure helped the Kingdom overcome challenges in the education and finance sectors.

Over 850 thousand daily classes were executed for over 6 million students in 2020, and around 2.8 billion digital payment transactions were made.

“This demonstrates Saudi`s leadership in having the most modern digital platform and world class capabilities to design local and global solutions at the technological frontier,” the minister said.

A recent report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development said the technology market could reach the value of 3.2 trillion dollars in 2025, increasing by almost 10 times from 2018 figures.

Al-Ibrahim said the Saudi economy could benefit from this by capturing a slice of the industry over the next five years.

The Kingdom is already in a good position, he explained, saying it “has its work cut out for it to move up the Global Innovation Index rankings where we plan to be among the leading pack of our G20 peers.”

“We are passionate about the objectives and vision of the Center, and look forward to working closely with its team in bringing the public and private sectors as well as the science and technology community together,” he added.