How a new initiative aims to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s biotech leadership position

How a new initiative aims to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s biotech leadership position
1 / 2
The Saudi National Biotechnology Strategy focuses on four directions, including vaccines, with an emphasis on localizing vaccine production, exporting, and leading innovation in the field. (Shutterstock)
How a new initiative aims to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s biotech leadership position
2 / 2
The Saudi National Biotechnology Strategy focuses on four directions, including vaccines, with an emphasis on localizing vaccine production, exporting, and leading innovation in the field. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 28 January 2024
Follow

How a new initiative aims to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s biotech leadership position

How a new initiative aims to reinforce Saudi Arabia’s biotech leadership position
  • National Biotechnology Strategy unveiled by the crown prince is aligned with Vision 2030 goals
  • Objectives include localizing vaccine manufacturing and improving the health of Saudi citizens

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is not only the Middle East’s largest regional market for pharmaceuticals and vaccines, but also has been strategically investing in biotechnology-related sectors. The country’s genetic diversity and geographical climate provide ideal conditions for conducting complex studies and research.

It has also been clear that the Kingdom is committed to developing and training national talent in biotech research, development and innovation, while enabling a competitive and digital infrastructure.

The new National Biotechnology Strategy, unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last week, is the latest shot in the arm for such fields as biomanufacturing, food, genomics, vaccine industries and plant optimization.

Localizing vaccine manufacturing and improving the health of Saudi citizens are among the key goals of the strategy. But that is just for a start.

The initiative aims to safeguard the environment, achieve food and water security, and solidify Saudi Arabia’s position as a global leader in the sector, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Welcoming the announcement, Rabia Yasmeen, a senior consultant at Dubai-based strategic market research company Euromonitor International, told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia continues to seek new areas of economic diversification as part of its Vision 2030 plan, which is now only six years away, and biotechnology can bring immense value across various pillars for the Kingdom.




Localizing vaccine manufacturing and improving the health of Saudi citizens are among the key goals of the National Biotechnology Strategy. (Shutterstock)

“Not only does it have the potential to address and to treat a wide range of diseases, but it can inherently improve the quality and longevity of human life.”

At its most basic, biotech is a process utilizing cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products, with a history dating back more than 6,000 years and boasting produce including bread and cheese.

More recently, it has grown ties to the development of therapeutic proteins and drugs constituted through genetic engineering to treat a range of ailments.

Saudi Arabia’s hope is to harness biotech for health and food needs, with a focus on plant optimization to help address one of the desert country’s primary concerns as its population continues growing, namely, food self-sufficiency.




Enhancing agricultural productivity with improved yields can be a game-changer for an import-reliant economy. (Shutterstock)

“Enhancing agricultural productivity with improved yields can be a game-changer for an import-reliant economy,” Yasmeen said, referring to the Kingdom.

“But it can also lead to establishing high degrees of research for food security practices in the Kingdom. With possibilities of food innovation, one can only imagine the food varieties that can be produced in Saudi Arabia that can impact consumer health in a positive way.”

All of which will only be aided by Saudi Arabia’s push into genomics. Seen as medicine’s new frontier, the field focuses on the interaction among genes and their interactions with environments.

Yasmeen said that genomics and precision medicine can be the next key areas of focus for the government, adding that Saudi Arabia’s large public healthcare sector coupled with the cost of medical services is an emerging source of concern.

“Genomics technology can offer the innovation that is needed to manage these costs,” she said.

“But, more importantly, it can help Saudi Arabia tackle challenges in its healthcare landscape such as high obesity levels, develop medicines unique to the Kingdom’s genome profile, as well as develop new genome profiles that can optimize the population’s productivity and health.”

According to Jassim Al-Shammari, founder of the think tank Saudi Industrialists and Exporters Platform, the National Biotechnology Strategy will be a pivotal in the development of Saudi Arabia’s economy, resulting in a “strong pharmaceutical industry in the Kingdom.

“It will reduce dependence on imports and increase self-sufficiency in meeting the needs of domestic markets, enhancing economic autonomy and reducing dependence,” he told Sabq, an electronic newspaper in Arabic.




Alongside economic diversification and value generation in healthcare and food industries, Saudi Arabia’s move into biotech offers “interesting prospects” elsewhere. (Shutterstock)

Al-Shammari added that the “new strategy promoted digital transformation and technological advancement in pharmaceutical industries, where biotechnology could be used to improve industrial processes and develop new, effective and safe medicines.”

A report published last year by Strategy & Middle East, part of PwC, indicated that Saudi Arabia boasts significant potential to become a world leader in biotechnology, addressing domestic health and food needs while concurrently building new markets for itself.

“The current state of the Saudi Arabian biotech industry could be described as ‘nascent’,” Claudia Palme, senior executive adviser with Strategy & Middle East, told Labiotech, a European biotech news website.

“(But) in its economic transformation program, Saudi Arabia’s focus is on creating a suitable environment for evolution of a broader biotech sector, with a productive interplay between public and semi-public institutions, and first initiatives of private companies in the field.”

These efforts include a big push not only within the Kingdom, but also the wider Gulf region, to develop a series of renowned academic institutions.

They include King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, King Saudi University, King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology, King Abdullah Institute of Medical Research, and King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center.

By the middle of last year, the Kingdom had pumped some $3.9 billion into research and development since 2021.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia has been focused on research funding and the development of state-of-the-art biotech infrastructure, together with what Palme described as a “systematic review of regulations” surrounding both business and biotech.




As of mid 2023, Saudi Arabia had pumped some $3.9 billion into research and development since 2021, with greater focus on the development of state-of-the-art biotech infrastructure involving  its leading universities such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. (Instagram: @kaust_research)

According to Saudi Vision 2030, almost 11,000 new job opportunities will be created as a result of the strategy, reaching 55,000 in the following decade.

Economically, early projections suggest it will contribute $34.6 billion — or 3 percent — to non-oil gross domestic product within the same time frame, building on the acceleration of non-oil growth that Saudi Arabia has experienced since the launch of Vision 2030.

The International Monetary Fund’s most recent annual review says Saudi Arabia has been averaging 4.8 percent growth in non-oil revenues.

According to Faisal Al-Azmeh, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Research, “since the launch of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has made meaningful strides in growing the non-oil economy through various developments and investments across strategic economic sectors.”

Reflecting the opportunities arising in the Kingdom, recent reports in The Wall Street Journal suggest that biotech startups are already tapping Saudi Arabia for funding.




In this photo posted on social media in March 2023, KAUST Ph.D. student Asrar Damdam is seen at the Sensors Lab, researching on food preservation technologies and food waste prevention. (Instagram: @kaust_research)

Ali Siam, chief business officer of Rubedo Life Sciences, a California-based longevity-focused startup, told the US newspaper that the Kingdom and the wider Gulf had “become much more relevant within the biotech ecosystem.”

Euromonitor International’s Yasmeen notes that alongside economic diversification and value generation in healthcare and food industries, Saudi Arabia’s move into biotech offers “interesting prospects” elsewhere.

“For instance, the Kingdom’s advancing production of biofuels, renewable energy sources and greener energy alternatives,” which she said would enable Saudi Arabia to push back against critics of its reputation as one of the world’s biggest oil producers by “leading the global energy story.”

Speaking to Arab News from Istanbul, Ussal Sahbas, founder of a boutique policy consultancy in Turkiye, described the National Biotechnology Strategy as “not only important for health, but also for areas including materials, manufacturing and agriculture that are crucial for the future of the Middle East.

“Therefore, biotech should be key component of technological diversification that Saudi Arabia is pursuing within its 2030 Vision,” he said.

 


Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream

Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream
Updated 30 sec ago
Follow

Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream

Saudi fashion graduate who dared to dream
  • Manal Marvelous’ tips for aspiring designers have turned her into social media star

Saudi fashion and lifestyle content creator Manal Marvelous discovered her love of design and sewing while at university and soon began sharing her work on social media.  

“My passion for fashion was a coincidence; actually, I had to take one semester of fashion classes in college because of some weird situation I got myself into and I was supposed to transfer after the semester ended, but I fell in love and never looked back,“ Marvelous told Arab News.

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

“I love out-of-the box and creative ideas I can share with my audience, which consist of girls around my age with similar interests who either love fashion or got inspired to start their journey after watching my content,” she said.

She loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers.  

HIGHLIGHTS

• Marvelous took part in the Sony Creators Convention, where she showcased her work on models, and offered advice to aspiring content creators about the business, how to succeed, and how to make their passions their careers. 

• Marvelous believes that with an abundance of talented and creative Saudi designers, as well as the diversity of Saudi fashion and traditional costume, the KSA scene needs more useful fashion events.

• Aside from TikTok, Marvelous supports up-and-coming fashion designers on her YouTube channel, paving a path for them to enter the industry. 

• She said that constructive criticism is always appreciated, and that she tries to hear what people have to say to improve her material, gain insight into her audience, and receive feedback.

“It felt like magic to me how can you transform a piece of fabric into art just by cutting here and stitching there,” she said.

Marvelous took part in the Sony Creators Convention, where she showcased her work on models, and offered advice to aspiring content creators about the business, how to succeed, and how to make their passions their careers.

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

“My work as a fashion and lifestyle creator takes me around the Kingdom to collaborate with global and local brands ranging from clothing to skincare to makeup,” she said.  

Aside from TikTok, Marvelous supports up-and-coming fashion designers on her YouTube channel, paving a path for them to enter the industry.  

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

“In my YouTube channel, I share my love of sewing, but with a twist. From sewing pants out of bandannas and a corset with plastic, to recycling my old jeans into a denim jacket,” she said.

Marvelous had the backing of friends and family from the start, and they were her supporters.

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

She did, however, mention how some elements of social media, like cyberbullying, were deterring her from sharing and how she overcame it.

“Bullying on social media has become the norm lately. What I do and what I recommend everyone do is ignore the comment, especially when it’s obvious that the person is just trying to hurt you.”

Manal Marvelous loves to share how she develops and sews her creations, and her TikTok has 3 million views and 700,000 followers. (Supplied)

She said that constructive criticism is always appreciated, and that she tries to hear what people have to say to improve her material, gain insight into her audience, and receive feedback.

“But people who just want to put you down and make you feel bad should be muted,” she added.

Marvelous believes that with an abundance of talented and creative Saudi designers, as well as the diversity of Saudi fashion and traditional costume, the KSA scene needs more useful fashion events.

“Saudi Arabia has some of the most talented and creative designers in the field, and their work should be appreciated and celebrated nationally and internationally. Having more shows in the Kingdom could be beneficial not only to the designers but to the country as well.”

Marvelous said that the Fashion Commission has been a significant asset to the sector for many years, planning events and providing support for emerging designers through programs such as 100 Brands.

“I advise upcoming designers to never stop dreaming big; this is our time to shine and create the unexpected. There’s space for everyone.”

Marvelous offers three tips for aspiring fashion content creators seeking to be authentic: “Don’t try to copy other creators; it’s good to follow trends, but only when it suits your content and your personality. Consistency is key. Pick the schedule that suits you and make sure to stick to it.”

 


Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil

Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil

Thriving gardens: Growing and nurturing plants without destroying soil
  • The foundation of a successful garden is soil health
  • It is critical to take care of the soil before planting seeds by creating organic elements in the soil rather than relying on chemical or synthetic fertilizers

RIYADH: Caring for plants at home reduces stress and increases satisfaction. Gardening allows people to connect with nature and enjoy the beauty of their home garden.
However, it is important to use sustainable methods to ensure that plants are healthy, and the environment is protected from damage. Soil preservation and care are therefore very important for sustainable gardening.
The foundation of a successful garden is soil health. It is critical to take care of the soil before planting seeds by creating organic elements in the soil rather than relying on chemical or synthetic fertilizers.
Compost food scraps, garden waste and other organic products to improve soil fertility will provide nutrients to plants, increasing microbial activity and boosting the health of the soil.
“Synthetic fertilizers aren’t used in the Kingdom. It is rare. Most people use organic products such as animal waste mixed with food waste,” said Haitham Sharbaji, an agricultural technician who works in Riyadh.
Sharbaji, who operates his own nursery, explained how different plants require specific techniques.
When asked about examples of plants that are grown in hot, dry weather like in Saudi Arabia, he mentioned trees including poinciana, racosperma and oleander. According to Sharbaji, these species are especially suitable for the weather in Riyadh.
He highlighted the importance of planting trees in healthy soil.
“Firstly, the soil must be healthy and suitable for the type of plant you want to grow. For example, there are kinds of soil for indoor plants and others for outdoor plants,” Sharbaji said.
“Lighting is also important, as each plant differs in terms of its need for lighting.”
Another method gardeners can use to prevent soil depletion is controlling the rotation of plants. Rotating plants grown in different areas of a garden helps reduce diseases and pests, and prevents nutrient deficiencies.
In addition to changing the position of the plant, covering it with a layer of organic mulch like wood chips or leaves helps maintain soil health. This technique captures moisture as well as moderates the temperature of the soil, which in turn improves the structure of the soil. Over time, it enriches the soil with beneficial organisms.
Chemical pesticides are another tool to avoid or reduce, as they can harm beneficial insects, damage organisms in the soil and disrupt the garden’s ecosystem. Natural pest control methods like introducing insects such as ladybugs and lacewings are a useful alternative.
Water in Saudi Arabia is a precious resource for growing any plant, and using it efficiently is vital. An optimal way to regulate watering plants is to install drip irrigation systems to control the amount of water that is used and deliver it directly to the roots.
People should be mindful of the hot climate in the Kingdom, which may speed up the evaporation of water. Therefore, watering the garden late in the afternoon or evening hours reduces water loss because of low temperatures.
“Water is the biggest enemy for indoor plant soil. The soil that is prepared for indoor plants doesn’t need too much water because it can create toxic fungi,” said Sharbaji.
He recommends watering indoor plants according to room temperatures. Generally speaking, a person can water an indoor plant every 15 to 20 days, he added.
Excessive use of synthetic fertilizers can lead to nutrient imbalance and environmental pollution. It is best to test soil regularly to detect any signs of nutrient deficiencies such as decolorization of leaves or irregular shapes.
Synthetic fertilizers can be useful but only when necessary, and they must be used wisely. This ensures the plant receives the nutrients it needs while minimizing the risk of biomagnification — the increase in concentration of a substance in the tissues of organisms at successively higher levels in a food chain.
By practicing sustainable gardening practices, people can grow and protect their gardens while maintaining soil health. Healthy soil preparation, mulching and natural pest control methods are some examples of healthy gardening, keeping in mind that a thriving garden starts with the soil.


Saudi Arabia arrests 20,667 illegals in one week

Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
Updated 8 sec ago
Follow

Saudi Arabia arrests 20,667 illegals in one week

Saudi police have arrested hundreds of illegals breaching country’s law. (SPA)
  • The report showed that among the 959 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 53 percent were Ethiopian, 44 percent Yemeni, and 3 percent were of other nationalities

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 20,667 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

According to an official report, a total of 14,805 people were arrested for violations of residency laws, while 3,860 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 2,002 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 959 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 53 percent were Ethiopian, 44 percent Yemeni, and 3 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 58 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and nine were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be facilitating illegal entry to the Kingdom, including providing transportation and shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), as well as confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.

 


Saudi authorities crack down on drug offenders

Saudi authorities crack down on drug offenders
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Saudi authorities crack down on drug offenders

Saudi authorities crack down on drug offenders

RIYADH: Saudi authorities recently made several drug-related arrests and confiscations in operations across the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

In the Al-Dayer governorate of the Jazan region, Border Guards apprehended three Ethiopian nationals attempting to smuggle 33 kg of hashish into the Kingdom. The guards also thwarted attempts to smuggle in 255 kg of qat in the same governorate.

The General Directorate of Narcotics Control arrested three Saudi nationals for selling cannabis and prescription drugs in the Jouf region.

Additionally, authorities in the Hail region arrested a Bangladeshi man for selling cannabis, and Border Guards in Al-Rabwah, Asir, thwarted the smuggling of 330 kg of qat.

Preliminary legal procedures have been completed for all the individuals involved and all seized items have been handed over to the relevant authorities.

The Saudi government urges anyone with information related to suspected smuggling operations or customs violations to call the confidential hotline 1910, the international number +966114208417, or to email [email protected].

Tips received relating to smuggling and breaches of common customs law are treated with strict confidentiality. Financial rewards are offered for valid tips.


KSrelief Eid initiative provides food for more than 800,000 people

KSrelief Eid initiative provides food for more than 800,000 people
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

KSrelief Eid initiative provides food for more than 800,000 people

KSrelief Eid initiative provides food for more than 800,000 people

RIYADH: Saudi aid agency KSrelief distributed 40,920 bags of rice, each weighing 20 kg, benefiting 245,520 individuals in Somalia as part of its Zakat Al-Fitr initiative, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Zakat Al-Fitr is a donation of food to the needy that must be given at the end of Ramadan before the Eid Al-Fitr prayer.

Zakat was also distributed in Yemen, with 31,333 bags of rice benefiting 219,331 individuals.

In Syria, 62,250 bags of wheat weighing 25 kg each were distributed to 373,500 individuals in need.

Meanwhile, KSrelief’s mobile medical clinics provided services to 1,255 beneficiaries in one month in Yemen’s Hajjah governorate, and the center also continued implementing its water supply project in Hodeidah governorate, pumping more than 5 million liters of water in one month.

Since 2015, KSrelief has implemented 2,829 projects worth more than $6.5 billion in 98 countries, in cooperation with 175 local, regional, and international partners.

The bulk of the support has gone to Yemen ($4.3 billion), Syria ($391 million), Palestine ($370 million), and Somalia ($227 million).

These projects targeted sectors including food, education, healthcare, water, sanitation, and shelter, helping millions of vulnerable and needy individuals worldwide without discrimination.